Forests Boost Public Health

Jun 26, 2024

Nature-based tourism and access to forests are essential to public health. Researchers Liisa Tyrväinen and Anna María Pálsdóttir presented their work on how forests can significantly enhance public health.

Liisa Tyrväinen, a professor from Finland, has dedicated her research to exploring the health benefits of forests. Her work, which has influenced forest policy and urban planning in Finland, emphasizes the positive effects of frequent contact with forest environments.

“My research in Finland has been focusing on how people get health benefits from forests through recreation and nature-based tourism, as well as living in green environments in our urban areas,” said Tyrväinen. “We have shown that living in green environments is beneficial in many ways and has a good impact on public health.”

Tyrväinen’s presentation, titled “Towards Mainstreaming the Use of Forests for Health through Multi-Actor Collaboration,” highlighted the interdisciplinary collaboration in forest-based care research. This research has shown how nature contact can boost human immune function and decrease the risks for non-communicable diseases. “During the past years, the cumulative scientific knowledge has been increasingly acknowledged in forest and environmental policies, urban planning, as well as social and public health services,” she explained.

Looking to the future, Tyrväinen sees significant potential for integrating forest benefits into various sectors. “We are looking forward to bringing the benefits of forest and nature indoors for people with restricted access to nature, such as in hospitals, elderly care homes, or even working environments,” she said. “We also aim to work more closely with the medical sector to integrate the health benefits of forests into social healthcare services and improve urban planning practices.”

Anna María Pálsdóttir, an Associate Professor in environmental psychology at SLU, focuses on the restorative potential of urban forests through structured forest therapy programs.

Pálsdóttir’s study in Belgrade examined the psychological benefits of spending time in urban forests. “This study indicates that forest therapy in urban forests has clear benefits for human health and well-being,” she noted. The research involved participants engaging in guided walks with a forest therapist, revealing significant psychological improvements compared to unguided walks.

Addressing the challenge of limited access to forests, Pálsdóttir discussed innovative solutions. “There are alternatives to bringing the forest to people, such as virtual reality. While it’s never a full substitute, virtual reality can film different forest settings and bring them indoors for vulnerable people unable to go outdoors,” she explained. “In that way, you can bring the forest into people’s lives.”