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What’s the Science Behind “The Peace” People Experience in Forests?

The Indisputable Physical, Mental, Emotional Benefits of Nature Give It That Magical Feeling

The vast majority of those that enjoy fantasy live in a city, suburb, or agricultural rural environment.

This is partially why we love it when our favorite fantasy heroes venture through untamed wilds.

It also means that our enjoyment of nature is an event outside of our ordinary routine that impacts our impression of the ancient fantasy forests.

The last post discussed the magical feeling of being in nature…

This post is describing the science that helps explain why we feel that magical, peaceful feeling.

The Forest and Physical Benefits

We’ll start with an astonishing physical benefit:

You read that right… one of the best ways to prevent CANCER… that scourge of humanity… is just being in nature!

And that’s not all… heart disease, the number one killer in America, is reduced by 50% through significant time outdoors.

  • Memory retention

  • Reduction of stress hormones

  • Weight loss

  • Improved eyesight

  • Boosted immune system

  • Higher Vitamin D production

  • Faster brain processing

But let’s pivot to something a bit less serious: ADHD.

Most work in modern life requires directed, task-driven attention. And due to its constant, repetitive use, people get easily fatigued and overwhelmed, and those with ADHD then get impulsively distracted .

This type of attention impacts everyone, but especially those with ADHD, because it is effortless and automatic. It also allows one to take a break from directed attention, rest up, and focus better later on.

Of course, the physical benefits of the forest multiply as soon as you include all the physical exercise you get. And the benefits increase a hundred times more when you consider the medicines provided by plants through millenia.

But… we are talking about the forest ITSELF… not the individual parts of a forest. And the real bastion for benefits is found in how they boost us emotionally.

The Forest and Emotional Benefits

Going for a walk is nice, no matter where you are. But studies show it is nothing compared to walking in nature!

A study in Japan measured heart rates and used questionnaires to assess the emotional state of two groups of people: those walking in an urban environment and those walking in nature.

Do you know what they found?

Walking in nature had significant improvements on mood, stress levels, and anxiety compared to those that walked in a city.

Some scientists in Finland did a similar study, and revealed the same results, except this time they lowered the bar: just 20 min in a city park was substantially better for emotional health than walking city streets!

To the average person, these conclusions seem obvious…

I mean, who would have thought that someone would be more relaxed, relieved, and relational being surrounded by a living, breathing, dazzling forest rather than strolling through an office or factory???

But it wasn’t until recently that science not only began to back this intuition up… but also prove it was even more true than we ever thought.

Being in nature doesn’t just help you be happy… it’s one biggest predictor of happiness there is.

In fact, researchers at Yale concluded that being in nature is ESSENTIAL for healthy living and mental processing.

They determined that 2 hours, every week, in some sort of natural environment (park, woods, forest, wilderness, etc.) was not a privilege but a necessity for truly living.

It didn’t matter: happy people were in nature…

Thriving natural environment = thriving life.

But… WHY?! Why Does Nature Do This to Us?

Let’s start with the basic explanation “a natural environment has less pollution … which is toxic”.

This is accurate, and does account for some of the benefits.

But the improvements provided by nature are too pronounced for this to cover them all… is too simple to explain everything.

There are a few theories:

  • Some lean on chemical explanations. When in a forest, we breathe in more microcompounds from the plants, water, and soil. These have phytoncides result in positive reactions within us.

  • The “biophilia hypothesis” claims that we long to immerse ourselves in nature simply because our ancestors were surrounded by it and relied on it for survival.

The reality? It’s probably some combination of all these.

Virtually every study arrives at the same conclusion: being in nature is an unmitigated good for humans.

However, there is one caveat that completely negates all these studies…

Nature becomes negative to a person’s well being if their life is being threatened.

No one finds nature relaxing and rejuvenating if they are tossed by the waves at sea, stranded in a desert, or lost in a dark forest!

And this brings us full circle… because if we found ourselves in a dangerous situation in an old forest, there is a good chance we would experience it just like those in the past did.

And this is the complexity of identifying what exactly a “fantasy forest is”:

All these impressions filter into the experience we have when we read, watch, play a “fantasy forest”.

Next post, we conclude this series with the capstone: summarizing and defining the ideal fantasy forest!

We Can’t Give You the Benefits…

But We Can Give You the Smell!


Riley Rath

Based out of Spokane, Riley is a freelance copywriter that combines his love of reading, writing, and people into something useful! He is thankful to be applying his passion for imaginative role-playing to help DnD related businesses communicate their value in the best way possible. He's kinda like a bard giving inspiration, except without the annoying pop covers!


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