Today is  International Day of Forests – a time for us to praise these majestic land masses. Today is a global celebration of forests, and a time to to raise awareness of the important role forests and trees have in our lives. Each year, the United Nations Headquarters in New York holds special events to celebrate the International Day of Forests, attracting representatives from far and wide to come and speak at the forum. This year, the theme is ‘forests and water’, raising awareness of the interconnections between these two life-giving elements.

One third of the Earth’s land mass is made up of forest, and this forest plays a vital role in not only the health of our earth, but our own health as well. Around 1.6 billion people depend upon forests for their livelihood, but many more of us are unaware of just how vital forests are to mankind.Here are some key facts about forests and why they are so important for life and our health.

 

They help us breathe

As humans, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Trees contribute to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air, absorbing the carbon dioxide we exhale and pumping out the oxygen we take back in. One tree alone can make as much oxygen in one season as ten people inhale in a whole year, so imagine how much oxygen a forest is producing! Additionally, just as household plants clean the air, so do forests – the trees catch and soak in airborne pollutants, making the air safer for us to breathe.

 

Trees help us live longer

Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, together with a team of researchers have found a clear correlation between communities who have lost trees and an increase in mortality rates related to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The research was a natural experiment, used to test whether a major change to the natural environment- the loss of 100 million trees to an invasive forest pest, would have an affect on health. The results found that across the 15 states included in the experiment, there were an additional 6113 deaths related to illness of the lower respiratory system, and 15,080 related to cardiovascular disease.

 

Forests promote mindfulness and wellbeing

Mindfulness is a practice that focuses on achieving a sound mental state by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. However, in todays society, with so much technology permeating our busy lifestyles it can be easy to move away from a mindful lifestyle. Yet, mindfulness can have positive effects on both your physical and mental health. The art of mindfulness includes practising meditation, breathing and letting go of any thoughts and worries that are occupying your mind. This is not as easy as it sounds when you are in a busy environment. Therefore, being in a large, natural space such as a forest can help promote mindfulness and wellbeing, reinstating peace and tranquility.

 

Being around trees can reduce stress, blood pressure and depression

There are many studies showing that the calm and relaxing atmosphere within forests can have a number of calming health benefits. Whether you choose to run, walk, meditate, practice yoga or simply take in the view – all these activities can contribute towards lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress related hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Using the profile of Mood States Tests, a psychological rating scale used to detect distinct moods, researchers found that those who completed the same exercises in urban areas saw no reduction in stress hormones. Furthermore, scores for anxiety, depression, anger and confusion were decreased when participants engaged in forest ‘bathing’ trips.

The health benefits of forests are vitally important for our health and wellbeing. If you want to start spending more time in forests and woodland areas , you can get involved with a number of forest and woodland conservation projects and events in Richmond Park. Each Friday there is an informal bird watching walk, alongside other guided walks and courses held throughout the year.