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Nine out of ten Austrians use woodland for recreation

(Vienna, 17 March 2016) 90% of Austrians use woodland for recreation, nearly one in two prefers to walk in the woods and one in five uses them for sporting activities such as hiking, running or cycling. This also reflects the health-giving properties ascribed to woodland: regularly spending time in the woods contributes to physical relaxation and recuperation, relieves stress, helps to strengthen the immune system, improves sleep quality and balances the central nervous system. Daniela Haluza at the Public Health Center of the Institute of Environmental Health at MedUni Vienna, emphasized this point on the occasion of the International Day of Forests this coming Monday (21 March).

"Wooded areas satisfy essential physical, emotional and social needs and this has a very beneficial effect upon people's health," explains the environmental health expert. Woodland also represents an important space for experiencing and learning – especially for people with psychosocial or physical needs, for the elderly as well as children and adolescents. According to Haluza: "Sustained experiences of nature in woodland helps to stimulate and improve all the senses."
Austria is a "forest nation": there are around 3.4 billion trees, that is approximately 400 trees per head of population. Afforested areas represent around 48% of the total area. In comparison, Germany and Switzerland each only have 31%. "An American researcher calculated that, in terms of overall environmental protection, a 50-year-old tree is worth $62,500," explains Haluza. According to the MedUni Vienna researcher, the challenge for the future is: "We have a lot of forest and we must ensure that it can withstand the increasingly frequent climatic extremes, such as summer heat waves. We must protect the existing woodland and promptly replace trees with more resilient species."

Around 50% of Vienna is "green" – but only 12.6% of Berlin
But what distinguishes a wood from a park? How many trees must a park have before it becomes a wood? Haluza cites the Türkenschanzpark or the Prater in Vienna as good examples. But when it comes to the beneficial effect upon climate, this distinction is irrelevant. "Vienna is a green metropolis, because it can be. Mega-cities such as Shanghai or Mexico City have it much harder."

Partially, or mainly, because of its many green spaces, Vienna was recently voted the best city in the world to live in, according to the annual Mercer study. Around half of the city’s total area is given over to green spaces (parks, areas used for agriculture, woods, recreation areas). Thus Vienna is way ahead of similar cities in Germany. Only 12.6% of Berlin is dedicated to green spaces or recreation areas, 11.7% of Munich and a mere 9.3% of Hamburg. Moreover, Vienna is the only city in the world to boast commercial wine-growing within its city boundaries.

Nevertheless, the MedUni Vienna environmental health expert and tree researcher thinks Austria’s capital city can still do more: "Even a green city like Vienna has room for improvement and some unexploited potential in the form of green roofs and facades."