Research has long shown that exposure to the natural environment positively impacts human health and well-being, both physical and psychological. Lower blood pressure and reduced levels of aggression are just some of the measured positive outcomes in humans. Increasingly, those same benefits are being attributed to wood visible in the built environment, such as in exposed mass timber structural systems and finishes.

Herrington Recovery Center. Photo: Tom Davenport | Through evidence-based design, wood has been used in buildings such as schools, offices and healthcare facilities to improve occupants’ experience.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors. That means the quality of the indoor environment—from the cleanliness of the air to the consistency of the temperature to the connections occupants make to building materials—is important.

Visible Wood can Lower Stress and Improve Health

Today’s green-building efforts include occupant health and well-being alongside environmental sustainability. Wood’s association with positive environmental and human health impacts makes it an economical and advantageous building material selection.

Recent research found that the visual presence of wood indoors can significantly reduce stress levels among building occupants. Stress increases blood pressure and heart rate, weakens the immune system, and causes irritability and a lack of focus. Those factors can lead to a decline in general health and task performance among occupants.

Research from Canada and Austria found that humans automatically relax when they’re surrounded by elements from the natural world, like wood. In fact, these materials have a pronounced effect on the autonomic nervous system, lowering blood pressure and stress levels. Nature is easily incorporated into a building or remodeling project – through a wood feature wall, ceiling, wainscoting or floors.

According to the study, wood can help achieve the following health benefits:

• Lower stress levels
• Improved attention and focus
• Greater creativity
• Quicker recovery
• Reduced pain perception

This is the premise behind biophilic design – the idea that incorporating natural elements in the built environment, such as wood, water, sunlight or plants, can actually improve overall health.

Additionally, wood is associated with warmth, thanks to its role as a natural insulator. Buildings that use wood in ample structural and finish applications have the potential to yield high levels of thermal comfort and mitigate sound while presenting an overall smaller environmental footprint than structures made of other materials, such as concrete and steel. Learn more about wood’s thermal and acoustic benefits.

Through evidenced-based design, which uses research to guide project decisions to the best outcomes, wood has been specified in buildings such as schools, offices and healthcare facilities to improve occupants’ experience—such as increased productivity at work and faster recovery for patients—as well as staff performance.

To learn more about wood’s impact on human health and well-being, see the sources below:

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