Author(s): Franziska Hütter
Editorial office: BFW, Austria
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Green areas have a positive impact on human health

Green spaces, especially forests, are good for human health. Spending time in natural and cultural landscapes increases not only our personal welfare, but can also reduce the costs for health care by prescribed stays in green areas. These are the main outcomes of the third international conference on "Landscapes and Human Health: Forests, Parks and Green Care", which took place from 17th-19th of May 2017 in Vienna, Austria.

The theme of the conference was the interaction between natural and cultural landscapes and human health. 140 experts from 27 different countries shared their experiences and scientific findings on the impacts of visits in green spaces and offers of Green Care on human health. 

Group foto of the conference participants
The participants  of the Landscape and Health conference in Vienna (Fotocredit: BFW/S. Ette)

Mr. Gerhard Mannsberger, Director General of the Forestry Department of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, emphasized in his speech during the opening ceremony that Green Care offers new opportunities to establish closer collaborations between the sectors of health, tourism, social care and forestry, by advertising attractive means and meeting the different needs and therefore generating additional income.

"This topic plays an even more important role in a time of changing societies, leading to increasing stress disorders and burn-outs. Stays in forests are proven to have a particularly positive impact. Because of that – prescribe yourself a dose of forest", says Dr. Peter Mayer, Director of the Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW).

The conference was organized by BFW within the scope of the "Green Care FOREST" project, in collaboration with the Institute of Landscape Development, Recreation and Conservation Planning (ILEN) of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, BOKU, Vienna.

The conference drew attention to the question on the connectedness of today’s society with nature and highlighted practical examples how to support the health of certain target groups through nature-orientated landscapes.

Vienna - a green town
Vienna is a good example for a "green" town (Fotocredit: BFW/S. Ette)

An example was a forest therapy in Ireland, where adults suffering from stress participated in a six weeks programme including regular visits in the forests. The study showed a significant improvement of the participants’ stress levels.

Green and blue spaces

The term "blue spaces" represents a new research field, focussing on the positive impact of not only green landscapes on human health and welfare, but also of other natural sceneries, as for example water areas, shores or even waterfalls. The core is artificial expanses of water in urban spaces. It has to be found out how waterfronts and other urban areas close to water can be used in a way most beneficial to human health and stress relief and how to include this topic in urban planning.

The conference participants visited different excursion points in the Vienna woods during field trips organized at the end of the event. During the visit show cases of different landscapes and initiatives focussing on humans and human health were shown. The ecological farm "Passet-Jandrasists" organizes for example daily programmes for people with special needs in collaboration with the association Wert:Volles:Schaffen. The programmes include meaningful tasks as helping with the daily farm work, working with animals and gardening.

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