Work is so stressful that it has become a global public health problem. The mental and physical health effects of stress can also affect productivity and lead to economic losses. A new study has now found that working people who regularly take walks in forests or green spaces may have better stress management skills.
In a study published in Public health in practiceResearchers led by Professor Shinichiro Sasahara at the University of Tsukuba analyzed the SOC (Sens of Coherence) values of the workers, demographic attributes and their walking habits in forest and green areas. SOC comprises the triad of meaningfulness (finding meaning in life), comprehensibility (recognizing and understanding stress) and manageability (feeling that you can deal with stress). Studies have shown that factors such as higher education and marriage can strengthen the SOC, while smoking and non-exercise can weaken it. People with a strong SOC are also more resilient to stress.
The study used survey data from more than 6,000 Japanese workers between the ages of 20 and 60. It found a stronger SOC in people who regularly walked in forests or green spaces.
"SOC shows mental abilities to recognize and deal with stress," says Professor Sasahara. "With stress at work as a focus, there is a clear benefit in identifying everyday activities that increase the SOC. It seems like we've found one."
People find solace in nature, and urban green spaces where nature is not easily accessible are becoming increasingly popular in countries like Japan. This means that many urban workers can easily walk among the trees.
The researchers divided survey participants into four groups based on their frequency of forest / green area walks. They then compared their walking activity with attributes such as age, income and marital status as well as with the SOC values of the respondents, who were classified as weak, medium and strong.
Those with a strong SOC showed a significant correlation between forest and green spaces that walked at least once a week. This important finding implies the greater benefits of urban greening – not only ecologically but also socio-economically.
"Our study suggests that walking in a forest or green space at least once a week can help people have a stronger SOC," explains Professor Sasahara. "Forest / green space hiking is a simple activity that doesn't require special equipment or training. It could be a very good habit for improving mental health and dealing with stress."