The evidence provided in the above sections builds towards the conclusion that we are healthier, happier, and more productive when connected with nature. Unfortunately, we live and work in built environments with Canadians spending 88% of their lives indoors. If this connection to nature is truly restorative, then we need to take every practical opportunity to bring natural elements into our indoor environments. By the way, take a look at wood level and the Best Woodworking Books to support us
In the small but growing volume of research on wood and health, the results that are emerging mirror results we have seen from exposure to other natural elements, such as views and plants. Lower stress reactivity in the autonomic nervous system is found when wood, plant, or nature views are present. Lower sympathetic activation and higher parasympathetic activation result in measurably lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, lower skin conductivity, and higher heart rate variability. These results have been linked to exposure to wood.
The Other Side
However, lower stress activation due to views and plants have also been shown to increase the ability to concentrate, lower pain perception, and speed recovery times. Though these benefits have not been identified for wood, they are tied to the same autonomic responses to nature seen with wood. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that future research on wood will find many of these same results.
Natural Materials and Views to Health
In healthcare environments, natural materials and views are associated with better patient outcomes with respect to recovery times, lower pain perception, and positive dispositions. This alone is reason for including more wood in in these buildings.
However, healthcare facilities are populated not only by patients, but also by their visiting families and the practitioners that treat them. These people also benefit from the pro health effects of nature. Their health, in turn, benefits the patient. Visiting or accompanying family members with lower stress levels and more positive moods likely affect patient stress level and mood. Further, the link between natural elements and the ability to focus attention cannot be ignored for healthcare practitioners who work all hours and often do not have access to the benefits of natural light. For these workers, wood can bring many pro health benefits in the absence of a connection to outdoors and day lighting.
Wood can bring nature into hospitals and care facilities in very practical ways. First, wood use in buildings is not reliant on windows with views and natural light. Wood can be employed in windowless or non-day lit areas of a building to bring about the benefits of exposure to nature. Further, unlike other natural elements, wood can be used both in a visual and a mechanical role, for example, as an exposed structural material or furniture. Of course, good judgment must be used when employing wood surfaces. Design for durability and cleanability are key considerations when wood is used. However, recent wood-forward hospital construction and renovations in Canada and abroad have successfully employed the material to critical acclaim and high user satisfaction. The shift towards greater use of wood in healthcare environments is an important and practical step in reconnecting patients, families, and practitioners with the pro health benefits of exposure to nature.