Walking in the forest or in other green spaces once a week could help boost our ability to cope with work-related stress, suggests a study from researchers in Japan. The findings offer pause for thought at a time when many countries worldwide are studying ways of regenerating urban zones, and when urban green space has never been so widely supported.
Could green spaces be set to reclaim their status as central points of the world's major cities? The question merits consideration, with much research supporting their beneficial effects on the physical and mental health of local residents. Moreover, the global pandemic underscores how essential these spaces are in helping relieve stress, anxiety and depression during periods of lockdown or social distancing.
New research from scientists at the University of Tsukuba in Japan offers insight into the benefits of nature -- forests of urban green spaces -- when it comes to dealing with work-related stress. In fact, a simple stroll among trees and greenery could help improve our ability to manage and withstand stress at work, while also boosting our mental health.
The researchers analyzed the "sense of coherence" (SOC) scores of more than 6,000 Japanese workers age 20 to 60. SOC assesses a person's mental capacity to recognize and manage stress, encompassing notions of meaningfulness (finding a sense of meaning in life), comprehensibility (recognizing and understanding stress), and manageability (feeling equipped to deal with stress). While previous research has indicated that higher education and being married can strengthen SOC, this is the first time it has been associated with nature.
Published in the journal Public Health in Practice, the research found significant correlation between strong SOC and both forest and green space walking at least once a week. People with strong SOC generally have greater resilience to stress. The results are not to be taken lightly, since work stress is today recognized as a major public health issue. The findings could also help spur the creation of more urban green spaces in cities where forests are not easily accessible.
"Our study suggests that taking a walk at least once a week in a forest or green space can help people have stronger SOC," explains the study's lead author, Professor Shinichiro Sasahara. "Forest/green space walking is a simple activity that needs no special equipment or training. It could be a very good habit for improving mental health and managing stress."