Radio 4 interview
I heard an interview on BBC Radio 4 with Professor Miles Richardson from University of Derby talked about the remarkable benefits of being in a ‘woody’ environment. His research sheds light on the physiological changes that occur when individuals interact with wood, highlighting the calming and relaxing effects it has on the human body.
Drawing on studies conducted in Japan, Professor Richardson reveals the profound impact of wood on our mental health. “Lab studies have shown that touching untreated oak wood produces physiological changes in the body, specifically calming the prefrontal cortex and increasing parasympathetic nervous activity,” he explains. These responses mirror those experienced when individuals spend time in woodlands, suggesting that the benefits of being in a woody environment can also be achieved through physical contact with wood.
Contentment and calm
Professor Richardson further explains that these physiological responses and the overall benefits of being in wood can be attributed to the management of emotions and moods. Our daily experiences are characterised by a complex interplay between feelings of drive, calm, and threat. Achieving a balance between these emotional dimensions is essential for overall wellbeing. Interestingly, the parasympathetic nervous activity triggered by touching wood is associated with contentment and calm, offering a tangible experience of tranquility and relaxation.
When questioned about the origins of this profound connection between humans and wood, Professor Richardson suggests that our affinity for wood may be rooted in our evolutionary history. “If we consider how we evolved to make sense of the natural world, it’s no surprise that other great apes also benefit from being in forests,” he notes. It appears that, deep down, we are inherently meant to be around wood, benefiting from its therapeutic effects on our mental state.
The implications of Professor Richardson’s findings are vast, emphasising the importance of incorporating wood into our daily lives and creating environments that foster a strong connection with nature. Architects, designers, and urban planners can draw inspiration from these insights to prioritise the use of wood in both public and private spaces, promoting mental wellbeing and emotional balance.
As we navigate the complexities of modern life, it becomes increasingly crucial to recognise the significance of our relationship with nature. The healing power of wood provides a tangible and accessible means of reconnecting with the natural world. By incorporating wood into our surroundings, whether through the use of furniture, building materials, or simply engaging with wooden objects, we have the opportunity to harness its transformative effects and promote a sense of calm, contentment, and overall mental wellbeing.
Fixing our relationship with nature
In a society that often overlooks the importance of our connection with nature, Professor Richardson’s research serves as a powerful reminder that our relationship with wood goes beyond aesthetics. It has the potential to positively impact our mental health and enhance our overall quality of life. Embracing the woody environment may well be the key to fixing our broken relationship with nature and finding solace in the therapeutic embrace of the natural world.
I’d agree and I’d like to add that when working with reclaimed timber the sensation, for reasons dificult to explain, is much deeper.