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Forest bathing' improves the physical and emotional well-being of people with mental illness

19 / 06 / 2019

This is the main conclusion of the forest bathing (shinrin-yoku, in japanese) project developed in the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve, coordinated by the Union of Foresters of Southern Europe (USSE).

 

89% of people with mental illness who participated in the study improved their perception of their physical condition, 45% moved from feeling "normal" to " happy", 54% noticed greater strength and 82% would recommend " with no doubt" this activity.

 

The people who made the guided tours experienced a reduction in anxiety levels, an improvement in interpersonal relationships and greater energy after participating in this therapeutic practice.

 

Forest bathing seeks reconnection with nature, which results in health benefits such as reduced stress, anxiety, depression or insomnia.

 

Bilbao, 19 June 2019. A positive impact on physical and emotional well-being, less anxiety and better interpersonal relationships. These are some of the conclusions extracted from the pilot project of forest baths, undertaken within the framework of the project financed by the Department of Economic Development and Infrastructures of the Basque Government with the help of EAFRD funds from the European Union. This natural and therapeutic practice of Japanese origin, which consists on completing a guided walk through a forest environment, is also known as Shinrin-yoku and has many followers worldwide. This new initiative, which took place in Mendata, in the heart of the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve between June and November 2018, involved AVIFES (Vizcaya Association of Relatives and People with Mental Illness), the Bizkaia Foresters Association, the Urremendi Rural Development Association and the Union of Foresters of Southern Europe (USSE) which has coordinated the project that has been called "Basoan".

 

Alex Gesse, a referent at European level in this discipline, trainer and mentor of guides, was responsible for providing training to the project guide. Gesse (Barcelona, 1975) was an executive in a company with 40,000 employees, but one day he decided to radically change his career path. In 2014 he trained in Shinrin yoku and founded the Instituto de Baños de Bosque (IBB). Later, in 2019, he created the European Forest Therapy Institute (EFTI) which is currently the only European school with a transversal presence in different European countries.

 

The objective of this therapeutic practice is the full and conscious connection with nature, which has a beneficial impact, scientifically proven, on human health. During the development of the project it has been shown that the effects on the quality of life of the participants have been very favourable. Through self-applied questionnaires and physiological measurements (O2 level, systolic and diastolic pressure and heart rate), the influence of these walks on a sample of 22 people with mental illness has been studied.

 

Main conclusions on the effects of forest bathing

 

The study has measured the impact of forest bathing in four dimensions related to quality of life: physical well-being, emotional well-being, interpersonal relationships and personal development. 

 

Physical well-being: In this section we have measured respiration, muscular relaxation and general physical sensation during and after the walk. 89% of the participants experienced an improvement in their perception of their physical condition. During the physiological measurements, a progressive and significant decrease in the blood pressure and heart rate of the members of the group was also observed. 
Emotional well-being: 95% of the people with mental illness who took part said that they felt an overall improvement in their mood. In fact, 45% moved from feeling "normal" to "happy". Similarly, 81% of the participants who were nervous at the beginning of the activity perceived that their anxiety had been reduced.  More than half of the sample, 54%, noticed increased strength and energy. In relation to their illnesses, 89% described that the symptoms of reluctance and demotivation were reduced.
Interpersonal relationships: 90% of the participants say that their interpersonal relationships have improved and enjoyment of these relationships has increased in 84% of the cases. 
Personal development: In this aspect, 52% of those who consume drugs thought less about their addiction and 55% managed to face the day with a more optimistic vision. 

 

Likewise, the analysis establishes that the regulation of anxiety and the beneficial impact on interpersonal relationships have been maintained two months after the forest bathing sessions. On the other hand, 82% of the participants would recommend "with no doubt " this activity.

 

Profile of the participants

 

The sample in this study is made up of 22 people, 8 women (36%) and 14 men (64%). Most have a psychotic disorder , personality disorder , and with an affective or mood disorder.  

 

Looking to the future

 

After this first trial period the intention of the project partners is to work to open this practice in the future to the general public so that anyone who wants to can enjoy all the benefits of a healthy forest bathing. Another line of action is the educational field, as it increases the connection with nature and environmental awareness. In addition, USSE has been a fundamental piece for the Instituto de Baños de Bosque and the European Forest Therapy Institute to choose the Basque Country for their first training of guides in Spain. These institutions are strengthening and extending their collaboration to disseminate this practice and continue training guides in the Basque Country and other USSE regions.

 

Origin and benefits of Shinrin-yoku 

 

Akiyama Tomohide, director of the Japanese Forest Agency, was the first to refer in 1982 to this technique that today is a global trend by joining two words: Shinrin (forests) and yoku (bathing). Tomohide believed that "bathing in green" provided numerous health benefits. This forestry technique, which consists of walking through a forest to reconnect with nature, requires forgetting the mobile, becoming aware of the environment and each step, walking in silence, going slowly, sitting when necessary, breathing slowly and deeply and letting negative thoughts pass. 

 

In the same way, years later, Qing Li, president of the Forest Medicine Society of Japan, demonstrated that regular walking in the forest reduces stress, hypertension, depression and other pathologies. 

 

In Japan, in fact, the term 'forest medicine' has been used since 2004 and the population regularly supports and practises forest bathing. It is not uncommon for Tokyo residents to go to one of the 62 official itineraries for practicing Shinrin-yoku that are spread throughout the country to mitigate the effects of the city's stressful rhythm.

 

In Europe, forest bathing is becoming a common practice to reduce stress levels. From Europe, and especially from the EFTI there is a clear intention to position the forest bathing as a welfare practice so that people free and affordable access to the restoration of their health, and generate a desire for conservation of the environment. As well as promoting collaborations between forest bathing guides and medical professionals in long-term interventions based on nature. In this way, Forest Bathing move from a practice of preventive medical care to a practice of treatment and rehabilitation, the so-called Forest Therapy Interventions.

 

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