16 Aug 2021

Wild and Well: Living near woodlands is good for young people

New UK Research and Innovation report confirms that living near woodlands is good for young people’s mental health.

Family looking for minibeasts - istock

The research, believed to be one of the largest studies of its kind, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Medical Research Council (MRC).

Lead author, PhD student Mikaël Maes of UCL said:

These findings contribute to our understanding of natural environment types as an important protective factor for an adolescent’s cognitive development and mental health.

Forest bathing, for example (being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of a forest), is a relaxation therapy that has been associated with physiological benefits, supporting the human immune function, reducing heart rate variability and salivary cortisol, and various psychological benefits. However, the reasons why we experience these psychological benefits from woodland remain unknown.

Joint senior author Professor Mireille Toledano of the MRC Centre for Environment and Health and principal investigator of the Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP), Imperial College London said:

It’s been suggested previously that the benefits of natural environments to mental health are comparable in magnitude to family history, parental age and even more significant than factors like the degree of urbanisation around you, but lower than your parents’ socio-economic status.

The report concludes that it is critical for us to tease out why natural environments are so important to our mental health throughout the life course.

Forest sunset - photo-nic - Unsplash

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