Benefits of Forest Therapy

The benefits of contact with nature for well-being and general health are well-documented (Dadvand et al., 2016; Sugiyama et al., 2008). The main benefits of exposure to nature on human health are listed below.

1. Improves perceived health and well-being

Perceived quality of life, psychological well-being and population well-being are positively correlated with the number of green spaces (ease of access). (De Vries et al., 2003; Maas et al., 2006; Sugiyama et al., 2008; Stigsdotter et al., 2010); the quality of natural spaces (Van Dillen et al., 2012), and the frequency of visits (Lafortezza et al., 2009).

2. Contributes to mental health

Short-term mental health benefits of exposure to natural environments, such as forests and urban green spaces, are well-documented. They influence positive emotions and decrease subjective stress and negative emotions: depression, fatigue, generalised anxiety and uncertainty (Meyer and Kotsch, 2017; O’Brien et al., 2014; Tyrväinen et al., 2014; Martens and Bauer, 2013; Morita et al., 2007; Bratman et al., 2015; Bowler et al., 2010; Townsend, 2006). Higher activity of the parasympathetic and less activity of the sympathetic nervous system than in urban settings (Lee et al., 2014; Park et al., 2010). Exposure to natural spaces affects the reduction of cortisol levels (Triguero-Mas et al., 2017). Attention restoration effect (Berman et al., 2008; Berto et al., 2005; Hartig et al., 2003; Laumann et al., 2003) and mental fatigue (Keniger et al., 2013).

3. Has a co-therapeutic effect

Nature-assisted therapies (NAT) are effective and appropriate as a public health resource (Annerstedt and Währborg, 2011). A pioneering study in 1984 revealed that patients who stayed in rooms overlooking a garden recovered more quickly after surgery (Ulrich, 1984).

4. Strengthens the immune system

Several lines of scientific research indicate associations between the immune response and exposure to nature, specifically in forests: increased proportion of NK cells (a type of white blood cell) (Li et al., 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and antitumor properties (Cho et al., 2017), supposedly associated with the inhalation of monoterpenes, and stimulation of the immune system, associated with the inhalation of monoterpenes and an increase in the number and activity of NK cells (Cho et al., 2017).

5. Promotes interaction and social cohesion

The health benefits of exposure to nature, in terms of social cohesion, are determined by the recreational use of the forest and green spaces (Fan et al., 2011; Mitchell, 2013). It fosters social contacts, pro-social attitudes, the development of new relationships, community-building capacity and empowerment, and also reduces the risks of mental health problems. In turn, cohesion is related to general and mental health (Dadvand et al., 2016; De Vries et al., 2013). Shared experiences with others can be an important source of benefits arising from the use of forests (O’Brien and Morris, 2013).

6. Helps maintain cardiovascular health

The presence of vegetation in residential areas reduces the risk of heart and coronary diseases, strokes, brain haemorrhages and high blood pressure (Maas et al., 2009).

7. Decreases morbidity and mortality rates

In terms of morbidity, a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that proximity to green spaces reduces the population’s risk of death from cancer, lung or liver disease. Another study shows that green spaces mitigate the effect of air pollution on blood pressure and diabetes (Groenewegen et al., 2018). A comprehensive review of various studies indicated that residential areas with greater vegetation, reduce mortality from cardiovascular diseases (Gascon et al., 2016).

8. Reduces overweight and obesity

A study in several European cities found that objective characteristics of the residential environment are associated with the likelihood of being physically active and not being overweight or obese (Ellaway et al., 2005). Another study t in Spain showed that children living in areas with more vegetation had a lower relative prevalence of overweight and obesity, as a result of less sedentary lifestyle behaviours (Dadvand et al., 2014).

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