Spending time in nature is a great way to relax, and now science backs up this idea by telling us exactly how many trees we need to see to relax. The crisp, fresh smell of pine trees, the rustling sound of palm fronds, and the drooping fountain of green of a weeping willow tree; all of these are beautiful aspects of the peacefulness that trees bring us.
Finding a quiet spot under a tree in the shade that it gives you in the peak hours of mid day sunlight, or resting against its trunk on the sunny side as the sun is lower in the sky, can be the most relaxing place to spend your time. In this article, we will look at some of the ways that trees help us to physically relax our bodies and overcome the stress response.
Here’s How Many Trees You Need to See To Relax, According to Science
The term Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” was first named by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982. The name for spending time looking at trees in order to relax gives us a way to talk about the significant discovery that science has identified; human health and the environment are connected in important ways.
The stress response and its effect on your body
Heart rate variability, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, blood pressure, pulse rate, and perspiration are all measurable parts of the body’s stress response. Researchers look at these measurements in people at baseline, after exposing them to a controlled stressful situation, and after they looked at a certain number of trees in a forest setting. According to science, taking in the atmosphere of a forest can improve your state of mind and physical relaxation.
Stress can be caused by many different things in our environment, from our jobs, to too much traffic, to not having enough time to do what we want to do. Stress is a killer though, and it can lead to coronary heart disease, overeating, stroke, immune health problems, and a lower quality of life.
Our response to environmental factors can either be healthy and positive, or negative and harmful to our health. In many ways, we can control our response to stressful events by reframing the way that we think about these events. For example, looking at stress as a challenge that we know we have the skills to handle effectively can be one effective way to relax.
The physiological effects on your body when you see trees
A joint research team at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign and the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong studied the density of trees that we see in city parks and peoples’ ability to recover after a stressful event. They reviewed the results from several previous studies and from 24 forests across Japan.
The results, according to the scientists, were remarkable for the ability of seeing trees to lower the body’s stress response. They suggest that the results of their study show that local governments should work toward an ‘effective use of forest resources in stress management, health promotion, rehabilitation, and the prevention of disease.’
There is a healing effect of being surrounded by trees, according to scientists, and it has a very real effect on reducing the stress response in our bodies. Scientists who study the health effects of trees on reducing stress have developed a new field; that of forest medicine. According to science ‘The results of studies performed on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) show that forest environments could lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, increase parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity compared with city settings.’
Why science says you need to see many trees before you can relax
As little as 15 minutes of viewing trees and 15 minutes of walking in a forest can reduce the body’s stress response. The joint Illinois and Hong Kong research study mentions that previous forest bathing research also ‘showed that forest environments can lower the absolute value of the total hemoglobin concentration, an index of cerebral activity, in the left prefrontal area of the brain. The absolute value of hemoglobin concentration had never previously been measured in the field.’
Researchers looked at varying levels of tree density and how stress response differed for the participants in the study. They found that if they had participants view a video of trees where the density of trees went from as low as 2% tree canopy coverage to 62% of tree canopy coverage, the amount of self-reported stress decreased in a linear pattern. The higher the tree density, the lower feelings of reported stress, according to the scientists. As far as how many trees you need to see to relax, the science simply shows the more trees, the better.