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Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Michele AntonelliEmail author
  • Grazia Barbieri
  • Davide Donelli
Review Paper

Abstract

Forest bathing is a traditional practice characterized by visiting a forest and breathing its air. This review aims to investigate the effects of forest bathing on levels of salivary or serum cortisol as a stress biomarker in order to understand whether forest bathing can reduce stress. Medline/PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar were systematically searched for relevant articles. The quality of included trials was assessed following the criteria of the NIH dedicated tools. Afterwards, a qualitative and quantitative synthesis of retrieved evidence was performed. A total of 971 articles were screened; 22 of them were included in the systematic review and 8 in the meta-analysis. In all but two included studies, cortisol levels were significantly lower after intervention in forest groups if compared with control/comparison groups, or a significant pre-post reduction of cortisol levels was reported in the forest groups. The main results of the meta-analysis showed that salivary cortisol levels were significantly lower in the forest groups compared with the urban groups both before (MD = − 0.08 μg/dl [95% CI − 0.11 to − 0.05 μg/dl]; p < 0.01; I2 = 46%) and after intervention (MD = − 0.05 μg/dl [95% CI − 0.06 to − 0.04 μg/dl]; p < 0.01; I2 = 88%). Overall, forest bathing can significantly influence cortisol levels on a short term in such a way as to reduce stress, and anticipated placebo effects can play an important role in it. Further research is advised because of the limited available data.

Keywords

Forest bathing Cortisol Stress Placebo effects Review Meta-analysis 

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© ISB 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Terme di MonticelliMonticelli TermeItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Public Health, Department of Medicine and SurgeryUniversity of ParmaParmaItaly
  3. 3.Sustainable Architecture and Landscape Design, AUICPolitecnico di MilanoMilanItaly

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