Humans are spending far too much time indoors. This is having an adverse effect on our health, particular in terms of our stress levels. According to studies conducted in Canada, Austria, Japan and Norway, wood improves our emotional state when indoors for long periods of time.
Marjut Wallenius, a professor of psychology at the University of Tampere in Finland, says developers should try to incorporate wood as a building material whenever possible to offset the negative effects of little exposure to the natural world. “Wooden surfaces make a room feel warmer and cozier and they also have a calming effect. In these properties, wood beats all other normal surface materials,” Wallenius said.
She points to research that shows touching a wooden surfaces gives people a sense of safety and closeness to nature. This is in comparison to touching metal surfaces like aluminum or stainless steel and even plastic – all cause your blood pressure to raise. This is due to conductivity. Wood has low conductivity compared to metals which have high conductivity – this effects our nervous system and increases our stress levels. Not even plants have the same positive results as wood.
“Continuing this research is also important because questions regarding indoor air are becoming increasingly important social issues in public facilities and housing. The use of wood may affect not only air quality and acoustics but also the atmosphere of a room and the mood and physiological stress level of those present,” Wallenius said.
Wood’s Positive Effect in Healthcare Environments
According to a 2015 FPInnovations study, we are healthier, happier and more productive when connected to nature. Unfortunately, we live and work in built environments with Canadians spending 88% of their lives indoors.
So really all organic material lifts our mood to a degree, in terms of plants, wood, and views of nature. It leads to “lower sympathetic activation and higher parasympathetic activation result” leading to lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, higher heart rate variability and lower skin conductivity.
Views of nature as well as exposure to wood and plants also leads to lower pain perception, speed up recovery times and increases our ability to concentrate – all of which would be of tremendous benefit to healthcare facilities.
Using natural materials in hospitals and long-term care facilities is shown to significantly improve patient outcomes in terms of the time it takes to recover, pain perception and fostering an overall positive disposition. Natural material is also of benefit to medical practitioners and visiting loved ones because it lowers their stress levels, which in turn, positively effects the patients. Lastly, the study found wood is a great substitute for natural sunlight, and its effects are still beneficiary when used in furniture.
Many hospitals in Canada and around the world have already taken steps to include wood in construction and renovations which has garnered critical acclaim and high satisfaction in patients.