Getting Outdoors Vs. Your Mood & Sleep. The Heights Of Forest Bathing:
When it comes to keeping yourself healthy, there can be a big difference in philosophies.
For some, health is what you get in a pill after a doctor visit for a problem.
Sort-of like a Biological Mechanic.
But on the other extreme there are ideas focused more on the behavioral end.
Sometimes, they even get close to touching the metaphysical, too.
But as we start getting closer to that end of health, it turns out many researchers find new answers that might have been hidden in plain sight…
The Short Answer:
- Things other than pills and doctors can help our health.
- For a long time, certain parts of staying healthy have almost relied on superstition.
- One of these ideas was Forest Bathing, a specific type & reason for getting outside.
- It’s been a fad since the late 1800s and even resurfaced in 1980s Japan.
- It has many health benefits, and many alleged sources for them.
- Among others, these include psychological and mood benefits.
- Part of these are also tied to getting exposure to natural chemicals in the soil & air.
- But the recent study has a simpler angle: Natural Light Exposure.
- Sean Cain’s team looked at data on 400,000 subjects from the UK Biobank.
- The average time spent outside was 2.5 hours/day.
- For every hour over that, people’s problems with mood, sleep, and depression reduced significantly.
- Conversely, the more subjects had artificial light exposure later in the day, the worse those problems were.
- Dr. Cain’s recommendation is to get out and get as much daylight as you can and to avoid artificial light later on as much as you can.
- In other work, his team is developing a sensor & smartphone app to help you track this.
- But none of this means daylight is the -only- benefit of getting outdoors.
- Other studies on tree-lined green-spaces show specific benefits, too.
- So maybe the health-superstitious of 140 years ago were still onto something.
Read on to find out the details…
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So one health practice that ventured into the more spiritual is called “Forest Bathing“.
It held similarly para-spiritual beliefs that somehow getting out in nature would make you better.
And it’s not just the 1980s Japanese who had that idea.
It was a huge fad back in the late 1800s USA to get out of the cities and into giant log-cabin style “sanatoriums”,
That were out in the middle of giant pine forests.
And the idea was that somehow the air was clearer and more healthy.
If the resort in question had a higher elevation than typical cities at sea-level like Boston or New York, so much the better.
So since humanity has spent so much of our evolution in more natural settings,
It’s easy to understand the appeal of getting out of leafless cities and back into the type of places we inhabited more than 2,000 years ago.
It’s also understandable that we might have more stealthy problems like The Hygiene Hypothesis,
That says we’re actually getting sick because we’re too clean and our immune-system goes wonky.
But the atmosphere of the forest having a positive-impact isn’t the only idea out there.
The researchers at Monash University lead by Sean Cain have other ideas.
This time, centered around another product of civilization & technology.
Because another late-19th/early 20-th century dude may be to blame if they’re right.
Or specifically his invention: The Light Bulb.
In an observational-study of 400,000 subjects from the UK Biobank Study aged 37-73 years old, 54% women 46% men,
Sean and his team analyzed the data on exposure to natural light and its association with health.
Because artificial electric light that can be on 24 hours a day is another fairly-recent development of a technologically-advanced society.
Maybe we all need to return to a different kind of sanatorium.
And the results of the study/meta-analysis showed it.
The more natural light subjects reported getting, the better their outcomes for
1) Sleep Quantity
3) Disorders of Mood like Major Depressive Disorder
4) Sleep Quality
5) Ease Of Waking In The Morning
Conversely, just as subjects in the different Forest Bathing and Municipal Green-Space studies showed,
The more exposure to artificial light, later in the day,
And the less exposure to its natural counterpart outside,
The more problems subjects had in the above mentioned categories.
As previous work on the inter-connectedness of our health-picture might suggest,
There is a chance that disorders of Sleep can cause or contribute to all kinds of other problems.
Perhaps in a more low-grade way that things like Stress can be a major source for many issues, too.
So for those of you who love stats & figures, they were as-follows.
The average daytime light-exposure of study participants was 2.5 hours/day.
For every hour after that a subject spent outdoors in natural light,
The lifetime odds for Major Depressive Disorder went down.
As did all the other probabilities for things like:
1) Antidepressant Usage
2) Low Mood
3) Anhedonia – Or reduced ability to feel positive emotion (see #1)
These were all controlled for demographics, lifestyle, and employment.
And strangely-enough, independently-confirmed for mood-disorders in different work by The University Of York.
So even with those constraints in-place the recommendations are still good ones.
Unfortunately, this study doesn’t really help people who work the night shift or are night-owls by type much.
And especially for night-shift workers, that change in schedule is also associated with some decreased health-outcomes that are worse than the social-jetlag of the early-bird work schedule.
So while it might seem like we’re getting to the part of the year when we start running out of the benefits of forest-bathing,
Especially for people who don’t have the luxury of evergreen forests.
It’s still a great idea to get out there and get whatever daylight you can.
Especially, since as the leaves start to turn colors and fall,
It also starts the beginning of the SAD season, too.
And on a side-note, the same team and leader are coming up with their own personal daylight-meter and smartphone app,
So that if you’d like to track your own progress in getting your Recommended Daily Allowance of that sleep-promoting daylight,
You soon will be able to; in addition to seeing the amount of artificial light you should avoid, too.
As one last footer, here are a few of the other benefits attributed to the non-daylight-derived part of Forest Bathing,
That you can find out at the other posts on HT:
1) Improved Immune System Function,
2) Reduced Blood Pressure
3) Lower Pulse-rate
4) Reduced Stress
5) Improved Mood
-And several others.
Just make sure you go out into more leafy green-spaces if you can.
Especially on your lunch-break, because any type of Forest Bathing is also the perfect cure for “Sick Building Syndrome” that you might be running into at work.
So while it’s interesting to see that these more primitive practices can work at many levels,
At this time of year, it’s also very telling that something similar to a SAD-therapy light box can also help us year round.
Now get outside and get your daily sunshine before it’s too cold!
• Source: Monash U.
• More Coverage: HT-Forest Bathing | HT- Time Outside | HT- Types of Greenspace
• Source Study: Time spent in outdoor light is associated with mood, sleep, and circadian rhythm-related outcomes: A cross-sectional and longitudinal study in over 400,000 UK Biobank participants