Finland's 'health forests' are helping patients reap the mental health benefits of being in nature

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EBU Copyright Finland has established 'health forests' next to healthcare centres
By Roselyne Min with EBU
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Finland has since 2015 established forests next to national healthcare centres as part of the so-called "health forest" project to bolster well-being.

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In the serene landscapes of Sipoo, a town north-east of Helsinki, Finland, patients at the local healthcare centre are taken on guided treks in the Sipoonkorpi National Park.

An expansive 18.5 km-squared forest nestled alongside the centre, it provides the backdrop to an ongoing effort by the Finnish healthcare system to reap the health benefits of being in nature.

Biologist Adela Pajunen has been developing activities for patients in these so-called “health forests”. She believes there are well-being benefits from the sense of experiencing shelter in a forest.

“On this outing, we listened to the stream, and watched snowflakes. But it can also be plants, animals, birds, insects, and stones. The processes of nature, birth, and death,” Pajunen said.

A recently published joint study published by Helsinki University, the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, and Sipoo municipality demonstrated a clinically significant increase in mental well-being when a group of patients was taken on guided treks.

“This time we were measuring positive effects on mental health, so we asked to respond to statements like ‘I feel close to other people, I feel I am capable of changes, I am relaxed’. And it is especially stress that was reduced in this group that was taken on forest treks,” said researcher Dr Annika Kolster.

Scientifically proven health benefits

Finland, with approximately 75 per cent forest coverage, has been a pioneer in exploring the health benefits of forests for over a decade.

Researchers in Finland believe a forest can help in coping with feelings of anxiety, insomnia, and the experience of pain in combination with medical treatment.

“A human enjoys the sense of really being in a forest, and benefits from that feeling. When you can’t see through a forest, so to speak. When you can experience shelter and being hidden. That there are places where you can lick your wounds,” said Pajunen.

Since 2015, the country has established forests next to national healthcare centres in Hyvinkää and Kajaani as part of the so-called “health forest” project.

In 2020, the project received funding from the EU’s GoGreenRoutes initiative.

In autumn this year, two new Health Forests have been set up in Lahti and Kouvola.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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