How trees benefit mental and physical health

Discover the power of trees countering modern stress. Trees aren’t just scenic; they’re essential for mental and physical well-being. Research proves trees reduce stress, boost mood, enhance cognitive function, and even lower crime rates. Let’s embrace their holistic benefits by planting and advocating for more trees.

In Japan, a practice exists called shinrin-yoku, which, when translated, means ‘forest bathing.’ This is not a mere walk in the woods, but an immersive experience, a deliberate act of soaking in the atmosphere of the forest. It’s a simple remedy for modern life’s stresses and anxieties, encapsulating our intrinsic bond with nature. As urbanisation continues to distance us from natural landscapes, the importance of trees, both in urban and rural settings, becomes ever more apparent. This is not just about beautifying our surroundings; trees play a pivotal role in our mental and physical well-being.

Ancient civilizations understood this bond well. The Celtic Druids revered the oak tree, while Egyptians held the sycamore in high esteem. Trees were not just physical entities but symbols of life, healing, and power. As modern science advances, it reiterates what our ancestors intuited: trees are essential for our health.

What are the mental health benefits of trees? 

Recent scientific research underscores the profound impact trees have on mental well-being. Researchers found that individuals living in areas with a higher density of trees exhibited fewer signs of depression, anxiety, and stress than those with fewer trees. They highlighted that even a brief interaction with nature, such as a walk in a tree-rich park, can significantly boost mood and cognitive function. The calming effect of green spaces, as demonstrated by the reduction in cortisol levels—a primary stress hormone—in participants, is particularly noteworthy.

In a study, Polish participants were asked to look at either an urban forest in winter or an urban environment without trees for 15 minutes. Because it was winter, the forest’s trees had straight trunks, no leaves, and no additional flora underneath them. The urban environment was made up of buildings and highways. The participants completed questionnaires on their feelings and moods both before and after. Compared to those who looked at an urban landscape, those who looked at a winter forest reported much improved moods, positive emotions, vigour, and a larger sense of personal repair.

Trees reduce stress

Towering stress levels often accompany our fast-paced lifestyles. Fortunately, nature provides a balm. Multiple scientific studies have highlighted the calming effects of green spaces. In one study, participants who spent time in a forested area had markedly lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone, compared to those in urban settings.

Trees boost mood and reduce depression

Ever noticed that a stroll in the park can lift your spirits? Trees play a significant role in that. Exposure to greenery leads to increased dopamine production, the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. Personal stories abound of individuals finding solace, healing, and rejuvenation among trees, bolstering the evidence for nature’s therapeutic impact.

Trees enhance concentration and cognitive functions

The Attention Restoration Theory posits that nature can replenish our exhausted cognitive resources. A simple experiment where participants were given memory and attention tasks pre and post nature exposure found that those who spent time around trees performed markedly better.

Trees promote social interaction

Green spaces aren’t just for solitary contemplation. They foster community interaction and sociability. Trees create natural gathering places, promoting social cohesion and a sense of belonging.

What are the physical benefits of trees?

Trees have long been recognized for their myriad physical health benefits.

Trees improve air quality 

Trees are our natural allies in combating air pollution. They act as robust air filters, removing harmful particulate matter and other pollutants. This isn’t just about the environment; cleaner air directly affects respiratory health, reducing ailments like asthma and bronchitis.

Trees control temperatures

Urban areas, with their concrete jungles, often suffer from ‘heat islands’ where temperatures soar above the surrounding regions. Trees offer a cooling solution. Their shade and the water they release into the atmosphere can lower urban temperatures, reducing heat-related illnesses.

Trees enhance physical activity

Tree-laden parks and forests invite physical activities—be it a gentle stroll, a vigorous jog, or a heart-pumping cycle ride. The health benefits of such physical activity in green spaces range from cardiovascular fitness to weight management.

Trees provide medicine for humanity

Trees have long been used medicinally by humans, and for a good reason. 25% of all medications contain one or more active chemicals that may be found in abundance in forests. Tree and plant extracts include several bioactive substances that aid in controlling pain, stopping bleeding, sterilising wounds, boosting our immune systems, calming our neurological systems, and other functions. 

Trees can lead to less crime in urban neighbourhoods

In a recent study, experts examined crime statistics for the American city of Chicago and assigned a grade to each census tract. The amount of tree canopy cover and enclosed park area in each tract was then compared to that. They discovered that crime rates decreased across several categories for every 10% increase in tree canopy cover—11.3% for assaults, drug offenses, and robberies and 10.3% for battery.

How else do trees impact our well-being?

Beyond these tangible benefits, trees invite us to engage in practices that nourish the soul. Ecotherapy, a guided interaction with nature, is being used to treat everything from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Then there’s the shinrin-yoku above, where even the simple act of gazing at a forest can reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

In urban planning, trees are no longer ornamental; they are integral to promoting healthier lifestyles. Their presence reduces noise pollution, supports biodiversity, and adds aesthetic value, indirectly contributing to our overall sense of well-being. Moreover, the economic benefits cannot be overlooked. Healthier populations mean reduced medical costs and increased productivity.

The final word

So, how do we make sure that more of us get the myriad physical and mental health benefits that trees provide us? We can engage in tree-planting activities. Even if you’re not planting them, advocate for more trees in your community. Make regular visits to parks and advocate for integrating more trees into urban planning and architectural designs.

To conclude, trees, in their silent, majestic manner, contribute immensely to our health, acting as buffers against the stresses of modern life. As we champion for greener spaces and support tree-planting initiatives, we are not just saving the environment; we are investing in our holistic well-being.