The Healing Effects of Forests

Maybe there actually is something to that “hug a tree” idea. In fact, I think there is.

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Vienna, Austria: “Many people,” says Dr. Eeva Karjalainen, of the Finnish Forest Research Institute, Metla, “feel relaxed and good when they are out in nature. But not many of us know that there is also scientific evidence about the healing effects of nature.”

Forests – and other natural, green settings – can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy cancer cells.

Many studies show that after stressful or concentration-demanding situations, people recover faster and better in natural environments than in urban settings. Blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the level of “stress hormones” all decrease faster in natural settings. Depression, anger and aggressiveness are reduced in green environments and ADHD symptoms in children reduce when they play in green settings.

In addition to mental and emotional well-being, more than half of the most commonly prescribed drugs include compounds derived from nature – for example Taxol, used against ovarian and breast cancer, is derived from yew trees, while Xylitol, which can inhibit caries, is produced from hardwood bark.

Dr. Karjalainen will coordinate a session on the health benefits of forests at the 2010 IUFRO World Forestry Congress in Seoul. “Preserving green areas and trees in cities is very important to help people recover from stress, maintain health and cure diseases. There is also monetary value in improving people's working ability and reducing health care costs.” she says.

The notion that green settings, forests, parks, and gardens, have a beneficial effect seems to also borne out by the results in the change in behavior of young people on council estates in Britain who got involved in the community gardens run by some transition town set-ups, for instance.

Rather than, as was feared by law enforcers and others, that the youths would trash the gardens and steal any produce it is they who have become, often, the guardians.

Working with the soil, in addition to just visiting forests, parks and gardens, enhances the result even more and it is a shame that forests and parks do not get more children and young people involved in a volunteering role as this could cut down a lot of problems, maybe.

Hugging trees, literally, has also found to be very beneficial, as many who get out into Nature and thus commune with Her via the trees can attest to, myself included.

We simply need more trees, more forests, and here commercial forests are as valuable as non-commercial ones and today the monocultures of the early to mid of the 20th century are being consigned to the history books of forestry anyway.

Many people have an issue with commercial forestry and wish to see forests that are not managed by humans but this shows how far they are in cloud-cuckoo-land, as their notion of “wild forests” is something that, and the g-ds only know how, has gotten into their heads from magic and mystical beliefs. There are no forests that have never been touched and managed by human hand.

Without commercial forestry and forest management many of the woodlands and forests of today would not even exist and the areas, more than likely, would either be grazing land, be mined or be villages, towns and cities.

IUFRO, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, is a nonprofit, non-governmental international network of forest scientists that promotes global cooperation in forest-related research and enhances the understanding of the ecological, economical and social aspects of forests and trees.

An important part of IUFRO’s mission is to disseminate scientific knowledge to stakeholders and decision-makers and to contribute to forest policy and on-the-ground forest management.

© 2010