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Smelling natures can make you happy

SMELLING nature can make people feel healthier according to study

BREATHE in – simply SMELLING nature can make people feel healthier, researchers say.

Going into the woods and sniffing their earthy smell makes people feel more relaxed and joyful, according to scientists.

Nature is known to play a role in promoting human health and wellbeing, shown especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Yet previous research has been limited in investigating which attributes of nature – smells, sounds or colours – affect human wellbeing and why.

Now, experts say smells – for example rotting leaves in winter – are key because they often jog people’s memories, linking them back to pleasant childhood experiences.

Researchers from the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) sent 194 people into woodland during the four seasons, in February, April, June and October 2019.

During each workshop, participants visited Sherwood Forest in Nottingham in the morning and the National Trust’s Clumber Park, also in Notts, in the afternoon. 

Upon arrival, they were told that they would be taking part in a woodland scavenger hunt and were invited to “look around and notice different elements of the woodland” and write down what they saw in terms of colours, textures, sounds, shapes, and smells.

 

Across all four seasons, participants made 337 mentions of smells in the two woodlands, compared to 223 for sound, 494 for textures, 596 for colours and 786 for shapes.

Of the 337 smell-related comments, 31% described experiencing smells had an impact on physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, or global wellbeing. 

And it was discovered that “earthy, woody” smells were linked to relaxation as well as feelings of comfort and rejuvenation.

Others said the lack of smell was a positive, remarking on how life in the city is often filled with the smells of smog and food and saying the forest air smelled clean and fresh.

Others associated the smell of pine with Christmas, and damp leaves with pleasant childhood experiences, such as their dad turning the compost heap on a Sunday morning.

Relaxation lowers the stress hormone cortisol – linked to a range of diseases – so researchers think time in woodland may have positive health benefits.

The study was co-led by Dr Jessica Fisher, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at DICE.

She said: “Nature is a multisensory experience and our research demonstrates the potential significance of smell for wellbeing.

 “The study provides findings that can inform the work of practitioners, public health specialists, policy-makers and landscape planners looking to improve wellbeing outcomes through nature. 

“Small interventions could lead to public health benefits.”

The research paper titled Nature, Smells, and Human Wellbeing is published in the journal Ambio.

 

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