Trees and Human Health

Tree sillouette photo 2No one can deny that we humans like to see nature. It’s why we set aside land for city parks, national parks, and greenways. It’s why we get our fingernails dirty planting trees and flowers in our yard. And I don’t think anyone would dispute that being in a forest or quiet natural area has a calming effect that is healthy. Some recent research is verifying that there is a relationship between the natural environment and improved health outcomes. Science guys love to hang impressive titles on things, and in this case enjoying nature is receiving “spatial emotional stimulus”.

. A scientist named Ulrich was among the first to see if they could put some hard data to this, so he did a study of patients recovering from surgery. He found that those patients in room with a natural view required less pain medication than those with a view of a brick wall. Another study in England found that exposure to “greenness” reduced mortality, especially from cardiovascular-related illness. In Tokyo, a study of senior citizens found a positive association between survival rate and access to walkable green space. In Holland, they found that those living in greener areas were less likely to be diagnosed with 15 of 24 health issues examined. Another study showed that walking in a forest reduces heart rate and lowers cortisol levels (a hormone released by the body when stressed out).

A more recent study came about because of a forest health issue. Emerald ash borer has hammered trees in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio over the last eight years. We have the borer here in Claiborne, Union, and Campbell County as well, but there is a lot more ash in the forests up north, and so the visual impact is greater. A science team did a study that compared human mortality rates before and after the ash borer killed trees and negatively impacted the “green” scenery. The study focused on cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illnesses because they are the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. Results suggest that the widespread death of ash trees lead to an increase in mortality from these two illnesses.

The reasoning for all this is that contact with the natural environment decreases stress, increases physical activity, and improves air quality. Whereas stress, no exercise and poor air quality is, of course, unhealthy. I personally think it goes deeper than that, and that we are hard wired to enjoy green spaces, and it messes with us when we don’t get doses of it on a regular basis. So use this as an excuse to get out there and enjoy being outside more. We are blessed with a beautiful area to live in, so take advantage of it and give yourself a good dose of spatial emotional stimulus. Information for this article came from the science paper: The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health, by Dr. Geoffrey Donovan and others.

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