THE BENEFITS OF TREES AND WOODLANDS FOR WELLNESS
There is growing recognition of the many varied benefits of forests and woodlands for human wellness and health. From capturing carbon, flood management, reducing water and air pollution, and a wide range of health improvements plus increasing the value of your property.
In today’s screen dominated lifestyle it’s easy to become disconnected from the natural world around us, especially with so much amazing info and films online about incredible wildlife all over the world. Many of us, in these times do not have access to forests, but there is always nature around us. Take the opportunity to glimpse Spring, springing in trees nearby you, give a moment to the birds; open the window and close your eyes.
As we come out of the dark wintery days, and when we are back to a level of normality, we aim to spend some quality time in the canopy. Not only to seek-out adventure, but also to reap the health benefits with which our tree friends provide us.
When we are with groups exploring the canopy on one of our Wild Tree Adventures, we always take a moment to appreciate the tree which we are climbing and the woods around us. Looking around from high up in the canopy, it is easy to leave worries, and screens, on the ground. This phenomenon is becoming better documented with research. Even having tree views from hospital windows can increase recovery time1!
What are some of the benefits of woodlands for wellness?
Trees and green spaces offer multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing with access to nature is vital for good mental and physical health, at all ages.2 Living in areas with more green space correlates with lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. And living in areas with green spaces significantly reduces income-related health inequalities and it has also been found that new-borns in areas with abundant green spaces have a higher birth weight and head circumference.2
It has also been found that people living near trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive or dependent on antidepressants. Doctors prescribe fewer anti-depressants in urban areas with more trees on the street!2 Spending time in nature has also been found to improve creativity, we only have to look at John Muir and Nan Shepherd for literary proof. But this phenomenon has also been evidenced scientifically. In a 2012 study Ruth Atchley and her colleagues explore the impact of nature on higher-level tasks, such as creative problem solving. In this particular study participants had four days of immersion in nature, and disconnect from multi-media and technology. The performance of participants on a creative, problem-solving task increased by 50%! This demonstrates a cognitive advantage of spending time immersed in a natural setting!8
Trees and chemicals
Trees not only improve our psychological health when we are near them, but they also contribute to keeping our bodies healthy! Combatting air pollution, trees absorb air-borne pollutants. These pollutants are known to exacerbate respiratory and heart conditions or carry carcinogens. Not only absorbing harmful chemicals, but trees also release beneficial ones! Chemicals released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, were found to boost the immune system.3
In studies where participants had been exposed to phytoncides, a significant increase in the immune system was recorded. In particular they recorded an increase in natural killer cells (cells of the innate immune system). Among lots of responses, these cells will kill virally infected cells. And they can also detect and control early signs of cancer. Exposure to phytoncides were also seen to decrease stress! With the concentrations of adrenaline and noradrenaline (stress hormones) in urine decreasing.
More research is needed to fully understand how phytoncides effect human cell responses. But some of these findings indicate that the benefits of woodlands, plants and trees goes much deeper than we may have initially thought!9
Forests and Dementia
Research into the link between nature and dementia are still at their early stages but the potential for woodland areas to have a positive impact is huge.6 During a 10-week pilot woodland activity programme for people with early stage dementia woodlands were found to promoted mental wellbeing.
The programme was delivered by Forestry Commission Scotland rangers and gave participants many positive outcomes such as a sense of freedom, meaning and identity, social connection, and inclusion.7 As well as a space for discussion, so often missed at a crucial and difficult time for people in the early stages of dementia. Being within woodland was central to these beneficial outcomes. Allowing people to relax, connect and reminisce with past life experiences as well as provide a ‘meaningful, purposeful sensory experience’. These experiences not only improved spatial awareness, but also many immeasurable elements of wellbeing such as meaning and identity.
Forest bathing – shinrin-yoku
With these health and wellness correlations becoming common knowledge, there is growing recognition of the value of nature for therapeutic treatments. These include forest bathing, a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, literally, ‘forest bath’. It doesn’t matter how fit or unfit you are, shinrin-yoku is an accessible practice which involves, slowing down, and spending time in a forest without technology or distraction. It can be done anywhere there are trees, in any weather.4
Forest bathing involves consciously connecting with one’s forest surroundings by engaging all five senses. Smelling the air and the musty scent of damp soil; listening to the bird song and the wind in the branches; looking around you at the form of trees, the patterns in the bark and the light streaming through the canopy; touching the bark of trees, the damp moss and feeling the warmth of the sun as it breaks through the leaves; and tasting the freshness in the air.
Moreover, forest bathing has been found to counter illnesses including cancer, stroke, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress as well as improve concentration and memory. It has been found that even exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities improved mental wellbeing, and that the psychological benefits of walking through forests are very significant.5 An estimated one in five patients consult their GP for what are primarily social problems, for which traditional medical interventions and treatments do not help. Forest bathing could be used as a preventative medicine, not a treatment, and may become more popular as a non-clinical activity to improve wellbeing.5
We can conclude…
Unsurprisingly woodlands and nature provide us with a profound wellbeing. Which perhaps our modern lifestyles, being primarily based indoors, does not fulfil, and some deep equilibrium we have within each of us, remains out of balance. However, taking time to notice and dwell on the small and the large green we have accessible to us, could go some way to balancing this wellbeing within us.
Take a moment to notice and enjoy your local trees, they may be impacting you and your health more than you think!
We at Wild Tree Adventures are always on the lookout for climbable trees, but we are also very aware that they give us something more than just adventure.
Join us soon and take a forest bath up in the canopy itself!
(1) View through a window may influence recovery from surgery (1984), Ulrich. R. S. Science. Vol 224, Issue 4647
(2) Nature for Health and Equity, (2017)
(3) Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins (2008). Li Q et.al. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol; 21(1)
(4) Forest bathing is great for your health: here’s how to do it (2018). Dr Qing Li. URL: https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/
(5) Getting back to nature: how forest bathing can make us feel better (2019), Harriet Sherwood, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/08/forest-bathing-japanese-practice-in-west-wellbeing
(6) How woodland therapy can help people living with dementia (2017). Emma Cessford. URL: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/about/resources/1199-how-woodland-therapy-can-help-people-living-with-dementia
(7) Forests as places of mental well-being for people with dementia (2015), Mandy Cook.
(8) Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings (2012). Ruth Atchley, David Strayer, and Paul Atchley. PLoS One 7(12). URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3520840/
(9) Effect of phytoncide from trees on human natural killer cell function (2009). Q. li et.al. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology Vol 22, no 4.
This is a fantastic adventure for kids and adults. We climbed a massive oak tree (myself and my two boys 11 and 16) … You climb the tree in your own time I went up once and sat and admired the view for a while but my youngest boy managed to go up and down three times. The price of the ticket included access to Bowhill grounds which as the sun was shining was great to walk around and there is also a courtyard coffee shop. All Highly recommended.