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Nature walks help relieve work-related stress

Stress in the workplace is a major public health issue that affects the mental and physical well-being of people worldwide. A new study from the University of Tsukuba has found a very simple way to help relieve work-related stress, and the solution is in nature.

Led by Professor Shinichiro Sasahara, the team set out to investigate how taking walks in greenspaces such as parks and forests may affect an individual’s sense of coherence (SOC), or the coping capacity that people use to deal with stressors in everyday life.

The concept of SOC was introduced in 1979 by Aaron Antonovsky to explain why some people become sick under stress while others stay healthy. 

People with strong SOC are known to have greater resilience to stress. The SOC scale is used to assess how people perceive life based on three key elements: meaningfulness – having a sense of purpose; comprehensibility – the ability to recognize and understand stress; and manageability – feeling equipped with the resources to solve problems. 

Previous studies have found that SOC scores are influenced by factors such as martial status, education, and physical fitness. 

For the current investigation, the researchers analyzed data on more than 6,000 Japanese workers between 20 and 60 years old. The experts found stronger SOC, and therefore greater resilience to work-related stress,  among people who regularly took walks in forests or greenspaces.

“SOC indicates mental capacities for realizing and dealing with stress,” said Professor Sasahara. “With workplace stress as a focal issue, there’s a clear benefit in identifying everyday activities that raise SOC. It seems we may have found one.”

In many countries like Japan, urban greenspaces are increasing in popularity. This gives workers easier access to nature, and the research indicates that taking advantage of these spaces is a simple way to increase SOC and relieve work-related stress.

“Our study suggests that taking a walk at least once a week in a forest or greenspace can help people have stronger SOC,” explained Professor Sasahara. “Forest/greenspace walking is a simple activity that needs no special equipment or training. It could be a very good habit for improving mental health and managing stress.”

The study is published in the journal Public Health in Practice.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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