Scientific research proves what we all knew – forests are good for us

New research has found that there is science behind the physical, mental, social and spiritual health benefits widely associated with forests and green spaces.

Global scientific evidence of the multiple types of benefits that forests, trees and green spaces have on human health has been assessed by an international and interdisciplinary team of scientists. The outcome is presented in a report titled “Forests and Trees for Human Health: Pathways, Impacts, Challenges and Response Options”.

It is authored by the Global Forest Expert Panels (GFEP) Programme of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). IUFRO unites more than 15,000 scientists in more than 630 Member Organizations – mainly public research centres and universities – in 115 countries and is a member of the International Science Council.

“The report suggests that decision-makers in forest, health and related domains should adopt more integrative perspectives for addressing forest-human health relations. By linking forest and human health policies and strategies, new and innovative solutions for health and forest challenges can be identified”, says chair of the GFEP on Forests and Human Health, Cecil Konijnendijk, University of British Columbia.

Forests and green spaces have positive effects, for example, on the neurodevelopment in children, on diabetes, cancer, depression, stress-related disorders, cognitive aging and longevity, and are crucial in enhancing social interactions, recreation and relaxation. Although all life stages are impacted, starting from the prenatal stage, the significant effects on children are particularly important, not least because of repercussions in later life.

Forests, trees and green spaces provide numerous goods and services, including medicines, nutritious foods, and other non-wood forest products that contribute to human health. Medicinal plants provide primary healthcare to 70% of the world’s population.

Adverse impact

The assessment finds that disturbed relationships between forests and people, poor forest conservation and management or wrong tree species choices in areas where people live can have an adverse impact on people.

A solution to the malaria epidemic, for example, is not to remove the forest and wetland habitats of the mosquitoes transmitting the disease – deforestation can actually increase the malaria risk – but to invest in sustainable forest management and urbanization processes that avoid loss of natural habitats.

Land-use change is estimated to have caused the emergence of more than 30% of new diseases since 1960. It is crucial to improve the understanding of the role of nature in providing benefits to humans, and consequently, the role that ongoing nature destruction is playing in increasing health threats.