Benefits of UK forests for health and wellbeing

6th February 2023

Benefits of UK forests revealed with ground-breaking research into air chemistry for health and wellbeing

THE LATEST UK research conducted in July 2022 into the air quality of forests versus a walled garden environment reveals highly beneficial compounds found in the air, which aid physiological health and wellbeing.

The research was conducted in partnership with the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences, the University of Derby’s College of Health, Psychology and Social Care, and The Forest Bathing Institute.

Carried out in semi-natural woodland just outside Sheffield, the study provides evidence that more Natural Volatile Organic Compounds (NVOCs) are found in older woodland and forest environments where there is more diversity of flora and fauna, and a variety of species of trees when compared to the control, an established walled garden setting with its own eco system of plants, wildlife and trees.

During a two-hour timeframe, air samples were collected and then analysed using mass spectrometry equipment which identifies compounds via their molecular weight, which in turn determines the structure and chemical properties of the molecules.

This research study is the first of its kind to be carried out in the UK and is significant in that it relates to Japanese research which has found air chemistry in woodland boosts the immune response.

Over the last thirty years, Japan has conducted research into the health benefits of nature. They are recognised as world leaders in studying the physiological and mental health benefits of spending time under the canopy of trees; a practice they refer to as ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ – translating into English as ‘Forest Bathing’.

Forest Bathing is a nature-based therapy, ideally within a woodland setting or ancient forest. It involves spending time slowing down, noticing the nature around you, being in touch with each of the senses and inhaling the higher oxygen content and chemicals present in the woodland area.

Currently the UK is over a decade behind in this area of scientific study, and The Forest Bathing Institute is spearheading the replication of these Japanese studies and expansion of international research into the health benefits of spending time in woodland and forests, with a large network of UK and international Universities.

These ground-breaking UK studies reveal that there were significant differences in the quality of the chemical composition of the air. Some NVOCs identified during the analysis were limonene, carvone, and other terpene, terpenoid and sesquiterpenoid compounds. The researchers concluded that spending just two hours Forest Bathing could provide beneficial exposure to participants from these NVOCs, along with the mindfulness practice that assists in achieving a more relaxed state.

In addition, in the context of Government suggestions to use reforestation as a way to tackle the climate crisis, the research indicates that planting schemes which include more diverse tree species (i.e. mixed evergreen and deciduous), are less managed and allow natural processes like succession to occur could be of benefit to the health of the forest environment, and also to humans.

Gary Evans, The Forest Bathing Institute Director & Co-Founder commented; “It is a small study, but the conclusions are revealing and significant in our continued replication of the Japanese scientific studies into analysing the benefits of the air quality in woodland areas in the UK. We plan to extend these studies; however we are delighted that there is now clear evidence of the particular chemicals found in our woodlands.”

Further scientific studies into the physiological health and mental wellbeing benefits are being planned. Currently, there are over a dozen universities who have expressed an interest in conducting research with The Forest Bathing Institute – funding is being sought to instigate these studies.

Find out more about The Forest Bathing Institute’s research and training.