‘I’m glowing’: scientists are unlocking secrets of why forests make us happy: How happy do you feel right now? The question is asked by an app on my phone, and I drag the slider to the space between “not much” and “somewhat”.
I’m about to start a walk in the woods that is part of a nationwide research project to investigate how better to design the forests of the future. Volunteers are being sought to record their feelings before and after eight walks on a free app, Go Jauntly, which could reveal what kind of treescapes most benefit our wellbeing and mental health.
My guide is Miles Richardson, professor of nature connectedness at the University of Derby, who hopes the data he gathers from the Treefest walks will discover how the age, size and shape of trees and woodlands benefit wellbeing. “With the government’s ambitious tree-planting targets, there’s going to be hundreds of new forests around the country,” said Richardson. “The whole project is about creating design tools so we can create the best treescape for 50 years’ time. Is the best way to do it with densely packed plantations of trees in regimented rows? Is that more beneficial to your wellbeing than a less linear approach? We don’t know.”
Scores of peer-reviewed studies have identified the myriad benefits of wooded landscapes on everything from improved cardiovascular and immune system health to depression, which decreased with immersion in a forest alongside lower levels of anxiety, anger, confusion and fatigue.
But it appears the type of forest may be important too: intriguingly, several studies suggest that more biodiversity has a bigger boost on people’s mental health, while the recording of brain activity in response to forest density found a more relaxed state and reduced tension and fatigue in forests with a lower density of trees (from 30% to 50%) – suggesting that densely packed conifer plantations aren’t so restorative. The article also details how future AI may connect us to nature, and how soundscapes also impact our mood.