Health communication and forest therapy…is this a case of country mouse vs. city mouse?

August 22, 2012

One of my sister’s brought to my attention some research about ‘forest therapy’. I read the article she sent me and was pleased to find that basking in the surroundings of a forest was reported to have positive benefits for human health. I would have to say that I didn’t need any justification for spending time in nature any opportunity that I get, but it was a nice thought to justify my own love of nature.

And then I decided to go on a hunt for the research. Alas, as is too often the case, there was no mention of the actual publication in the news report and so I had to go in search of the research. On PUBMED, I was able to find research on ‘forest therapy’. Sadly, the most recent article–published in the past several months in 2012, is a meta-analysis that examined all previously published articles and concludes that there is no evidence from which to draw conclusions about the effects of forest therapy [see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22888281]. The authors conclude that, “Because there was insufficient evidence on forest therapy due to poor methodological and reporting quality and heterogeneity of RCTs, it was not possible to offer any conclusions about the effects of this intervention. However, it was possible to identify problems with current RCTs of forest therapy, and to propose a strategy for strengthening study quality and stressing the importance of study feasibility and original check items based on characteristics of forest therapy as a future research agenda.”

Alas, I remain steadfast in my belief that forest therapy, spending time walking and living and breathing in forest environments, sustains me. But I have at least one very good and close longtime friend who would not agree with me. She basks in the bright lights and fast pace of locations such as New York city in December. That, in fact, was one of the challenges associated with the research. There are unpleasant forest setings that no one would want to spend time in, so not all forests are created equal. And there has to be a great deal of individual variance related to preferences in this regard. Perhaps it is more important to communicate that each of us should take time to identify what environment and setting gives us the most calm and promotes our well-being. And then find time to bask in it.

 

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