Forests are fundamental to the health of the planet, but they are also vital for the physical and mental health of its people. Here are five reasons why.
Improved cardiovascular health
A number of studies have shown that walking through a forest has numerous health benefits, but one particular study investigated its effect on heart rate and blood pressure1. The study compared the cardiovascular responses of 48 young adults walking in a forest and the same number in an urban environment, and found that the heart rate and blood pressure during forest walking were significantly lower. Given that increased heart rate and high blood pressure increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, forests can play an important role in reducing that risk.
Better immune system
The immune system is vital to human health, fighting viruses and infections using ‘natural killer’ (NK) cells within the blood. Forests have an extraordinary ability to boost our immune system through the release of phytoncides, which are found in the oils of woody plants such as trees. Produced by trees to help them fight diseases, phytoncides also work with our NK cells to help us combat infection. So the next time you’re in a forest, take a deep breath and give your immune system a helping hand.
Lower levels of anxiety and stress
A number of studies have shown that spending time in forests reduces the levels of the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline in the body. In a significant Japanese study2, forests were shown to lower a wide range of feelings such as tension and anxiety, depression and dejection, anger and hostility, confusion, fatigue, and total mood disturbance when compared to an urban environment. The study pointed towards “Noise pollution, air pollution, work pressure, and other stressors of urban life increasingly driving humans to seek some form of stress relief,” which can be provided by forests.
Improved levels of concentration
While the health benefits of forests are important, trees can also boost levels of concentration in both adults and children to the point that those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show improved concentration after just 20 minutes in a park. The results of a Dutch study3 showed that the requirement for ADHD medication was inversely related to the amount of green space nearby, and concluded that children who are most likely to benefit most from green space tend to have the least of it.
Decreased depression symptoms
As well as boosting the immune system and lowering levels of stress, trees have recently been shown to reduce the need for antidepressant drugs. A psychology lecturer at De Montfort University in the UK studied the medical data of almost 10,000 residents in the German city of Leipzig and plotted it against distribution maps of urban greenery. Not only did the results show that a proximity to trees corresponded with a lower rate of antidepressant prescription, but that living within 100 metres of a tree was associated with lower use of those antidepressants4.
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1Influence of Forest Therapy on Cardiovascular Relaxation in Young Adults, 2014
2Relationship between psychological responses and physical environments in forest settings, 2011
3Residential green space associated with the use of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medication among Dutch children, 2022
4Urban street tree biodiversity and antidepressant prescriptions, 2021