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Study highlights how one hospital waiting room feature positively impacts health of patients, visitors: 'The brain becomes calmer and less stressed'

"Their memory and ability to think increased."

"Their memory and ability to think increased."

Photo Credit: iStock

While many people have an affinity for wood furniture and interior spaces, few of us realize the extent to which wood can tangibly affect our mental health and wellbeing.

But according to a scientific study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, this effect is measurable and significant.

The study was undertaken in the wooden waiting room at the National Oncology Institute in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. Fifty volunteers were observed before and after their stays in the waiting room, with things such as heart rate, respiration activity, and blood pressure recorded.

According to the study's authors, the effects of spending time in the wooden waiting room were overwhelmingly positive. "The usage of wooden materials verifies their regenerative and positive impact on the human nervous system, through the appealing aesthetics (color, texture, and structures), high contact comfort, pleasant smell, possibility to regulate air humidity, volatile organic compound emissions (VOC-emissions), and acoustic well-being in the space," they wrote.

Though wood is a material that we often take for granted, the more wood we are able to use in our built environments, the better — not just for our mental health, but for the planet as well. When compared to other building materials such as steel or cement, wood has a drastically lower effect on the overheating of our planet. 

In fact, architects are beginning to design and construct skyscrapers out of wood, and they are just as safe and structurally sound as their metal counterparts. "The only path forward to get us to carbon-neutral buildings is timber," one architect said.

In Japan, the practice of "forest bathing," or simply walking into a forest and spending time around trees, has been shown to reduce stress and boost peoples' immune systems. The chemicals released by trees have been found to have medicinal properties that may even increase levels of anti-cancer proteins.

Taking all that into account, it is not surprising that the wooden waiting room improved patients' well-being.

"The effect of wood on the nervous system showed that the brain becomes calmer and less stressed, probably because wood is natural and more familiar for humans," the study said. "The first effect of the wood during the first few minutes was relaxing, while during longer stays in the wood environment, the brains of our volunteers became more active, less afraid and nervous, and their memory and ability to think increased."

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