Forest & Health

Last changed: 31 October 2017

The thematic research program Forest and Health examines whether and how human health is affected by visits to forest environments and how this knowledge can be extended to forest management operations.

The research area is new and has not previously existed in the Faculty of Forest Sciences at SLU. The program is led by the researchers Ann Dolling and Ylva Lundell. One doctoral thesis has been produced within the program by PhD Elisabet Sonntag-Öström. The graduate student Patrik Umaerus coordinates one of the projects.

Forest and Health is an interdisciplinary program which is working closely together with medical doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists and others at the Stress Clinic, University Hospital of Umeå, researchers at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine and Department of Psychology at Umeå University as well as researchers at SLU in Umeå and Alnarp.

Forest and Health has been funded by the Faculty of Forest Sciences (SLU), Sveaskog forest company, Umeå municipality, the Swedish Forest Agency, the Swedish Forest Society, Petersson-Grebbe foundation, Västerbotten County Council and the Centre for Environmental Research (CMF), Umeå. The graduate student is funded by the Swedish Research Council Formas.

Contact information

Program coordinators

Coordinator for project 3

Forest and Health includes the following projects:

1) EnRest (Environments for Rest)
"A comparative study of two stress-recovery environments"
The project has studied if a stay in the forest, or in a handicraft environment, can reduce stress levels and if any of the environments is better than the other in curing stress. The intention was also to find out what aspects in the environment that were affecting a possible mental recovery. In this project, persons with high stress levels visited one of the environments two times a week for 3 months.

A paper about this study is under review in a scientific journal, and part of the study is evaluated in a master thesis (Jönsson, 2013).

2) ForRest (Forests for Rest)
"Nature's role in stress and exhaustion disorder"
The randomised controlled study ForRest investigated whether staying in forest environments can provide restoration effects and accelerate recovery in patients with exhaustion disorder. We also studied more closely the forest environments that were perceived as restorative, what components in them that were of importance and what silviculture actions that were needed in forest management in order to be able to use them as rehabilitation forests.

Persons diagnosed with exhaustion disorder participated in the project. Half of them were randomly assigned to spend two hours a week for 3 months in one of eight different forest environments. The other participants were randomly assigned to the control group. All participants (forest and control groups) got, after the three initial months, cognitive behavioral group rehabilitation at 24 occasions, once a week.

Evaluation of the initial pilot study is presented in Sonntag-Öström et al. 2011. Evaluation of the main part of the study is included in the PhD thesis of Elisabet Sonntag-Öström, presented at Umeå University in September 2014. Two papers with quantitative (Sonntag-Öström et al., 2015 [Can rehabilitation……]) and qualitative (Sonntag-Öström et al., 2015 [”Natures effect ……]) results, respectively, are published.

3) Green rehabilitation in family forest farms from a rural perspective.
Swedish forestry has traditionally been based on timber production. In this project we investigate biological and institutional barriers and opportunities in alternative types of economic activities in small family forest farms, and their importance for the local economy.  Work on a paper about this study is under progress.

4) MiniRest
"The immediate effects of outdoor environment on stress and burnout"
In this project, we compared how a short stay (less than an hour) in different forest environments affected the health of people with exhaustion disorder. The environments used in the study were three different forest environments (from the ForRest study) and one urban environment.

Results from the study are included in the PhD thesis of Elisabet Sonntag-Öström. They are also presented in the paper Sonntag-Öström et al. 2014.

5) A GPS-study of choice of environment for people with stress-related fatigue
The study investigated, by use of GPS recorders, in detail where in different forest environments that people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome preferred to reside. The study was a substudy of ForRest, where the participants had to select one of eight forest environments for their two hour forest visits. The field part of the project has ended and the study is now being evaluated.

6) The optimal character and management of rehabilitation forests in combination with timber production
The aim of the project was to a) on the basis of the large data sets collected for the project ForRest as well as results from Alnarp rehabilitation garden, "transfer" the mental and rehabilitative experience of persons with exhaustion disorder to forest characters and forest data, 2) identify rehabilitation forests and their distribution in the landscape, and 3) by using the Heureka-system as planning tool do scenario analysis of how the proportion of rehabilitation forests in combination with forestry for timber production could be optimized with minimal economic loss. The project has been conducted in collaboration with researchers at SLU in Umeå and Alnarp.

Two papers from the study are published, Nordström et al., 2015 and Stoltz et al. 2016.



Dolling, A., Nilsson, H., Lundell, Y. 2017. Stress recovery in forest or handicraft environments - An intervention study. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 27:162-172.

Jönsson, H. 2013. Can visits to the forest or a handicrafts environment lower the level of stress for stressed people? - A comparative study. Master degree thesis, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest ecology and management, Nr 2013:3. (In Swedish with English summary) ISSN 1654-1898.

Lundberg, J.  2011. Where is the rehabilitation forest? – The use of preference and perception of forest environments to locate forests for rehabilitation at landscape level. Master degree thesis, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest ecology and management, Nr 2011:5. (In Swedish with English summary) ISSN 1654-1898.

Lundell, Y., Dolling, A., Nordström, E-M., Skärbäck, E., Stoltz, J., Annerstedt van den Bosch, M., Grahn, P. 2015. Rehabiliteringsskog och virkesproduktion – Går de att kombinera? Fakta Skog, nr 6. (In Swedish)

Lundell, Y. & Dolling, A. 2010 Kan skogsmiljöer användas vid rehabilitering av människor med utmattningssyndrom? Fakta Skog, nr 13 (In Swedish)

Nordström, E.-M., Dolling, A., Skärbäck, E., Stoltz, J., Annerstedt van den Bosch, M., Grahn, P., Lundell, Y. 2015. Forests for wood production and stress recovery - trade-offs in long-term forest management planning. European Journal of Forest Research 134: 755-767. DOI 10.1007/s10342-015-0887-x 

Sonntag-Öström, E. 2014 Forest for Rest. Recovery from exhaustion disorder. Umeå University Medical Dissertations, New Series No 1667. (Dept of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Umeå University, Sweden.) ISBN 978-91-7601-083-9, ISSN 0346-6612.

Sonntag-Öström, E., Nordin, M., Dolling, A., Lundell, Y., Nilsson, L., Slunga Järvholm, L. 2015. Can rehabilitation in boreal forests help recovery from exhaustion disorder? – The randomised clinical trial ForRest. Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 30(8), 732-748. DOI: 10.1080/02827581.2015.1046482

Sonntag-Öström, E., Nordin, M., Slunga Järvholm, L., Lundell, Y., Brännström, R., & Dolling, A. 2011 Can the boreal forest be used for rehabilitation and recovery from stress-related exhaustion? A pilot study. Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 26: 245-256. (doi: 10.1080/02827581.2011.558521).

Sonntag-Öström, E., Nordin, M., Lundell, Y., Dolling, A., Wiklund, U., Karlsson, M., Carlberg, B., Slunga Järvholm, L. 2014. Restorative effects of visits to urban and forest environments in patients with exhaustion disorder. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 13: 344-354. (

Sonntag-Öström, E., Stenlund, T., Nordin, M., Lundell, Y., Ahlgren, C., Fjellman-Wiklund, A., Slunga-Järvholm, L. and Dolling, A. 2015. "Nature's effect on my mind." - Patients' qualitative experiences of a forest-based rehabilitation programme. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 14(3): 607-614.  

Stoltz, J., Lundell, Y., Skärbäck, E., Annerstedt van den Bosch, M., Grahn, P., Nordström, E.-M., Dolling, A. 2016. Planning for restorative forests: describing stress-reducing qualities of forest stands using available forest stand data. European Journal of Forest Research 135:803-813. DOI: 10.1007/s10342-016-0974-7