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Wellbeing in the Forest

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Nature has always been recognised as having a positive impact on our health.

Yet in ‘modern’ times, our connection with nature and forests has arguably been undervalued for its preventative and restorative values for human health and wellbeing.

In our societies, stress has become an accepted social norm while pursuing our notions of what defines a successful life, which is usually within the city environment. A growing science is now building the evidence to show how nature has a positive impact on our health. Stress reduction is continuously sought, yet the simplest of interventions in nature could be key to providing preventative and restorative benefits. There is increasing evidence to show how time spent in nature, in particular in forests, has stress reducing qualities and ultimately a restorative impact on our wellbeing.

Forests environments have been recognised to lower stress levels and recent research conducted in Sweden has indicated that there are particular qualities within a forest landscape that are conducive to this; tree age, tree sparsity and tree height, therefore these factors needs to be taken into account when identifying an area for restoration. It has been suggested that these aspects are deemed restorative because they facilitate key perceived sensory dimensions (PSDs) of serene, space and wild elements, which have been identified as key characteristics of a supportive environment for wellbeing. Research has shown that the element of ‘serene’ is one of the basic needs and required when experiencing high stress and therefore low wellbeing. In a busy city environment, finding environments that are truly ‘serene’ is challenging, therefore being in a forest could be an optimum recovery environment [1].

There is a movement to formalise interventions for wellbeing in outdoor environments, so interventions can be considered part of treatment, instead, or alongside psychological and medicinal treatments. Research is exploring the benefit of forest interventions with people suffering from exhaustion disorder (experienced after periods of prolonged stress). Physical stress levels were measured by heart rate, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate recovery. Findings have suggested that forest environments could be beneficial as part of a strategy to aid recovery from people suffering from exhaustion disorder. In Denmark, a recent study has worked with army veterans experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They participated in a ten week intervention programme with qualitative research showing ex-soldiers felt an improvement in their experience of their symptoms.

The evidence is increasingly showing that time spent in nature is having a positive impact on wellbeing and interestingly, the heightened restorative value of the forest is likely to be viewed as particularly important. However, this does present challenges for experience of stress in urban environments and the accessibility to forest environments. To be truly preventative in developing environments that support wellbeing and reduced stress, we need to consider as a society how we can plan nature as part of city life and how to support the development of forest interventions in people’s lives for health benefits.

Sumondo are planning on conducting a small study using the Sumondo Pro app and planned nature interventions. If you are interested in taking part in the study as a volunteer, please contact info@sumondo.dk to register your interest for further information.

[1] Pálsdóttir, A.M., Stigsdotter, U.K. & Grahn. P. (2011). Preferred qualities in a therapy garden that promote stress restoration. Conference proceedings, 27-29 June. Research into inclusive outdoor environments for all. Open Space/People Space, Edinburgh.

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