Forests and Human Health June-20-2012

Features and commentary

A restoration-enhancing forest trail in finland

Tytti Sarjala, Ph D. and Eira-Maija Savonen, M.Sc.
Finnish Forest Research Institute

Professor Kalevi Korpela
University of Tampere

Finland’s and probably the whole world’s first wellbeing-themed forest trail with mood restoration-enhancing exercises was opened at Ikaalinen Spa in May 2010. The forest trail, called Power Forest was created in collaboration with The Finnish Forest Research Institute and the University of Tampere, Department of Psychology. The project was funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Council of Tampere Region. Another wellbeing-themed forest trail, with different exercises, was opened in autumn 2010, in Seitseminen National Park.

A pair of trails (the shorter 4.4 km, the longer 6.6 km) with psychological signposts goes through variable scenery, forest and countryside in Ikaalinen. Instructions given on the signposts beside the trail aim to induce relaxation, improve mood, induce cognitive reflection and attention restoration, and enhance the search for a favorite place which can be shared socially. Visitors may also score their mood with the help of a questionnaire before and after walking the trail.

A user survey and an interview were carried out among the forest trail visitors in autumn 2010 after they had visited either the short or the long trail. Over 80% of the visitors scored a more positive mood after walking the trail, and they said they would like to come back to the trail and to recommend it to their acquaintances. Walking through the longer trail was found to be more satisfactory to the visitors than the shorter one.

According to the user survey, deliberate exercises along the forest trail focused a person’s attention on the features of the natural surroundings and to enhanced mood, relaxation and restoration, as intended. However, more psychological and physiological evidence is still needed in the future in order to increase utilization of forests for mood restoration-enhancement and stress release.

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Comments: Lu-Min Vaario,