New research supports the idea of nature baths to aid mental health patients. Here’s a closer look at what they are, and how they can ease anxiety disorders and depressive states.
A new meta-analysis conducted by Australian researchers supports the idea that prescribing nature baths can be beneficial to the mental health of patients. Even if the benefits may seem evident, this research highlights the interest of so-called nature prescriptions, which could also be effective in fighting sedentary lifestyles and reducing high blood pressure.
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What is a nature bath and what can it do for mental health?
Feeling depressed or prone to anxiety? Try taking a nature bath. More and more doctors are recommending that their patients spend time in contact with nature. And there are serious reasons behind this. In some countries, nature baths are even being prescribed by heath practitioners with, as for any medicine, a precise dosage (for example 20 or 30 minutes per week). This is notably the case in Japan, Scotland and the United States. As well as in Canada, which launched the PaRx program in 2020.
Initiated by the British Columbia Parks Foundation and then rapidly deployed in other Canadian provinces, the idea is to provide patients with free admission tickets to visit the national parks of their region. This is an effective way of taking concrete action to get people out enjoying time in nature.
Inspired by the famous forest baths that originated in Japan in the 1980s, these nature prescriptions draw on the many proven benefits of regular contact with nature, whether on physical, mental, cardiovascular or respiratory health. A new study conducted by researchers from the Universities of New South Wales and Wollongong in Australia looks at this global trend that is becoming increasingly popular in the medical field. The authors reviewed nearly 100 studies on the subject. The objective was to gather evidence of the effectiveness of nature prescriptions, as well as to determine the important factors of their success.
A host of benefits
The study found that, in addition to improving anxiety disorders and depressive states, this type of prescription reduced systolic blood pressure and increased the number of daily steps (900 more steps on average per day) in the patients concerned. The places in which nature baths are most often prescribed are forests and nature reserves (35%), parks (28%), small community or family gardens (16%) and botanical gardens (11%). “Effective nature prescription programs can involve a range of natural settings and activities and can be implemented via social and community channels, in addition to health professionals,” the researchers note.
However, the study has several limitations. For example, more than half of the research reviewed was conducted in South Korea (20%), Japan (20%) or the United States (11%). “There was insufficient data to determine the influence of sex or gender on the health effects of nature prescriptions,” the researchers add. Further research with larger samples of participants and extended to other geographical regions may therefore be necessary to obtain more detailed information on the benefits of nature prescriptions and to encourage other countries to adopt them.
This story is published via AFP Relaxnews.