Nature therapy

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Nature therapy, sometimes referred to as ecotherapy, describes a broad group of techniques or treatments with the intention of improving an individual's mental or physical health, specifically with an individual's presence within nature or outdoor surroundings. One example of a nature therapy is forest bathing or shinrin-yoku, a practice that combines a range of exercises and tasks in an outdoor environment. Garden therapy, horticultural therapy, Kneipp therapy or even ocean therapy may also be viewed as forms of nature therapy.


In a crowded urban capital of Persia 2500 years ago, Cyrus the Great recognized the need to increase human health and create a feeling of "calm". In response, he planted a garden in the middle of the city.[1]

Researching scientists during the 1950s decided to look into the reasoning behind why so many people chose to spend time in nature, with special reference to famous locations like national parks.[2]

Shinrin-yoku (森林浴), which literally means forest bathing, originated in Japan in the early 1980s and may be regarded as a form of nature therapy.[1]

Investigations on the physiological effects that result from being in a forest began in Japan in 1990 and continue today.[3]

Howard Clinebell coined the term "ecotherapy" in 1996.[4]

In April 2018, Qing Li, a doctor at Nippon Medical School in Japan, published a book on the topic after his 25 years of research on the matter. The book was published in English and plans include translation of the book into multiple languages.[5][better source needed]

There has been an increasing interest in the study of nature therapy and its forms over the past few decades, as there is an important exploration of how a person's overall quality of life can be improved through their interaction with nature and a decrease in factors like stress or depression.[6]

The process of Nature therapy[edit]

  1. Stressed State: A person is in a state of physical or emotional stress.
  2. Restorative Effects of Nature: The person spends time in nature, resulting in improvements in physiological relaxation and the immune function recovery response.
  3. Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): Nature directly increases the parasympathetic nervous system and heightens awareness, causing relaxation.[7]

Health effects (physical and psychological)[edit]

Nature therapy, and shinrin-yoku specifically, has been linked to a number of physiological benefits, as well as neuropsychological benefits, as indicated by neuroimaging and validated psychological tests such as the Profile of Mood States (POMS).[8] Spending time in nature can improve immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory functioning. Nature therapy can provide emotional healing, decrease blood pressure, improve a person’s general sleep-wake cycle, improve relationship skills, reduces stress,[1] and reduce aggression.[9]

However, a 2012 systematic review study showed inconclusive results related to methodological issues across the literature.[10] Subsequently, a 2017 systematic review of the benefits of spending time in forests demonstrated positive health effects, but not enough to generate clinical practice guidelines or demonstrate causality.[11] Additionally, there are concerns from researchers expressing that time spent in nature as a form of regenerative therapy is highly personal and entirely unpredictable; in fact, the nature can be harmed in the process of human interaction.[2]

Horticulture therapy, a notable form of nature therapy, has been linked to physiological changes within patients participating in an inpatient cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program; the patients experienced an overall diminishing effect of disturbance to their mood and a noticeable decrease in their measured heart rates, respectively.[6] Horticulture therapy has also been linked to supporting a person's general well-being by boosting their positive mood and providing a viable escape from stressors occurring in daily life, as can be seen in a studied population that possessed professional diagnoses in both physical and psychological capacities.[6] Although there is a heavy amount of anecdotal evidence supporting the psycho-social benefits of nature therapy, cancer patients provided positive feedback after participating in the Healing Gardens Program at Cancer Lifeline in Seattle; the program has been recommended for therapeutic purposes for adult cancer patients.[6]

The effects of nature therapy can be connected to two theories, known as the Stress Reduction Theory (SRT) and the Attention Restoration Theory (ART).[12]

Future directions[edit]

While there exists a limited amount of available studies to reference for the definitive conclusion regarding the success of nature therapy as a common practice,[13] forms of nature therapy have been deemed sufficient in serving as complementary therapy for adult medical usage.[6] There are signs of this field being a notable practice among children or within pediatric studies in the future.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Hansen MM, Jones R, Tocchini K (July 2017). "Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14 (8): 851. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080851. PMC 5580555. PMID 28788101.
  2. ^ a b MacKinnon, J. B. (2016-01-21). "The Problem with Nature Therapy". Nautilus. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  3. ^ Song, Chorong (Aug 2016). "Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 13 (8): 781. doi:10.3390/ijerph13080781. PMC 4997467. PMID 27527193.
  4. ^ Sorgen, Carol. "Nature Therapy (Ecotherapy) Medical Benefits". WebMD. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  5. ^ O'Donoghue, J. J. (2 May 2018). "Stressed out? Bathing in the woods is just what the doctor ordered". The Japan Times.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Cutillo, A.; Rathore, N.; Reynolds, N.; Hilliard, L.; Haines, H.; Whelan, K.; Madan-Swain, A. "A Literature Review of Nature-Based Therapy and its Application in Cancer Care". Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture – via EBSCO.
  7. ^ Song, Chorong (August 2016). "Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy: A Review of the Research in Japan". International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 13 (8): 781. doi:10.3390/ijerph13080781. PMC 4997467. PMID 27527193 – via EBSCO.
  8. ^ Copeland CS. The Forest As Physician: Shinrin Yoku. Healthcare Journal of Baton Rouge. Nov-Dec 2017
  9. ^ Phillips, Lindsey (May 2018). "Using Nature as a Therapeutic Partner". Counseling Today. 60 (11): 26–33.
  10. ^ Kamioka, H; Tsutani, K; Mutoh, Y; Honda, T; Shiozawa, N; Okada, S; Park, SJ; Kitayuguchi, J; Kamada, M; Okuizumi, H; Handa, S (2012). "A systematic review of randomized controlled trials on curative and health enhancement effects of forest therapy". Psychology Research and Behavior Management. 5: 85–95. doi:10.2147/PRBM.S32402. PMC 3414249. PMID 22888281.
  11. ^ Oh, B; Lee, KJ; Zaslawski, C; Yeung, A; Rosenthal, D; Larkey, L; Back, M (18 October 2017). "Health and well-being benefits of spending time in forests: systematic review". Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 22 (1): 71. doi:10.1186/s12199-017-0677-9. PMC 5664422. PMID 29165173.
  12. ^ Bratman, Gregory; Hamilton, J.; Daily, Gretchen (2012). "The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health" (PDF). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The Year in Ecology and Conservation Biology (1): 118–36. Bibcode:2012NYASA1249..118B. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06400.x. PMID 22320203.
  13. ^ Fleming, Lora E.; Depledge, Michael H.; Bone, Angie; Warber, Sara L.; Hartig, Terry; Wheeler, Benedict W.; Grellier, James; Alcock, Ian; White, Mathew P. (2019-06-13). "Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing". Scientific Reports. 9 (1): 7730. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3. ISSN 2045-2322.