References Environment

Kainuunmeren Työterveys Ltd. together with Luke investigated the impact of group nature intervention to stress control and recovery. The results were positive and formed a base for new occupational health services.

Most of us know that exercising and hiking in nature is good for you. However, the assumption is often based on everyday experience rather than on scientific facts. In 2018 Kainuunmeren Työterveys decided to back this shared belief with science. It started co-operation with Luke and studied the subject for seven months in a compact pilot group of eleven members.

The initial impulse for the pilot project was a training course organized by Luke and its partners. Three physiotherapists and one psychologist from Kainuunmeren Työterveys took part in the course.

“It got us think about how we could better utilize the good effects of nature in occupational health. We formed a pilot group and equipped its members with various sensors that reveal stress and recovery”, tells Lenita Perhovaara, one of the physiotherapists involved in the project.

We learned new ways to utilise nature as a source of wellbeing

Multi-method research project

First the professionals from Kainuunmeren Työterveys and Luke outlined a research plan. The effects were measured applying several methods.

“Heart rate variability was captured with First Beat technology. We also took saliva samples for measuring cortisol and alpha-amylase, both of which are related to stress. Then we complemented the findings with two surveys”, lists Luke’s researcher Maija Lipponen, who was in charge of the used methods.

“By monitoring the heart rate variability we could observe whether the person recovers while exercising in the nature. Cortisol, on the other hand, enabled us to compare different kinds of days with each other. Alpha-amylase revealed the variation between individuals. The surveys we used are standardized and familiar to occupational health: BBI-15 burnout survey and a pain survey used in the occupational health of the city of Helsinki”, Lipponen continues.

Promising results

The project produced new tools for occupational health professionals. One central observation was that getting health benefits from the nature can take place among everyday routines. One does not necessarily have to go to a national park to get a nature experience. Instead, for example the daily commute to work can bring benefits. This way the commute can be a bit longer, but in the big picture it pays off.

According to Lenita Perhovaara, the project got good feedback from the people who took part.

“The participants evaluated the pilot on the scale from one to ten and the average score was above nine. All in all, the project was very successful and reached its objectives. The management and personnel of Kainuunmeren Työterveys learned new ways to relieve stress and have now better capabilities to utilise nature as a source of wellbeing. Furthermore, we now have scientific evidence about these good effects that we can use to convince our customers.”

Three cyclists in a forest
Including a visit in a forest can bring additional health benefits to your daily commuting by bike. Photo: Erkki Oksanen.