Increasing Tree Cover Linked to Improved Community Mental Health

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in nature, you can feel the effects it has on your body. Being surrounded by greenery in a forest, on a beach, in the mountains or by a river can calm your body and mind, as well as provide you with other, less obvious health benefits.

Trees and other green spaces provide more than just an excuse to get in touch with nature; they provide habitat for people as well as other animals, like birds, reptiles, insects, and more. Research has been done on how nature, green spaces, and other community spaces benefit residents who are largely surrounded by concrete, glass, and metal structures. Cities around the world are looking to increase the amount of green spaces that are available to their citizens through the additions of parks and tree canopies in busy urban areas.


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Looking to the Trees

Studies show that adults who live in a neighborhood that has 30% or more tree coverage have lower odds of experiencing psychological distress in their lifetime (31% lower odds). People who live in areas with abundant tree canopies and other greenery are also, in general, less likely to experience moderate or poor health overall.

A recent study took about 46,000 adult individuals living in Sydney, Newcastle, and Wollongong, Australia, and followed their health over a period of six years [1]. The study looked out how health can be influenced by the type and amount of green space located within a mile of each individual’s home. Factors such as income, education, relationship status, sex, and age were accounted for in the research.

Benefits of Green Space

There are a few reasons why humans benefit from being in and around green spaces. Tree canopies that line roads and parks create shade and lower temperatures, which makes people slow down or stop to enjoy that space. When we’re enjoying a space, we’re more likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger or a neighbor, which ultimately fosters a strong sense of community.

Walking among the trees in Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff, south Wales. Photo: Jeremy Segrott, CC BY 2.0

Walking among the trees in Pontcanna Fields, Cardiff, south Wales. Photo: Jeremy Segrott, CC BY 2.0

Warmer temperatures in areas that aren’t shaded by plants and trees can cause heat exhaustion and other mental health impacts. People are more likely to exercise outdoors if they are able to run or walk along shady areas. Additionally, tree canopies and other plant life create a burst of colors, textures, shade, patterns, sounds, and smells that we enjoy.

Birds, chipmunks, and other creatures that we enjoy find protection in trees, and give people something to come and look at and listen to together.

The Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, has long held the idea that time spent in nature calms the mind, body, and soul. Nature lowers our blood pressure and causes us to think about things other than what is making us feel stressed or anxious. Time spent in green spaces can improve our mental acuity and boost our memory and recall. Additionally, trees and plants are hosts to millions of microorganisms that are lacking in many urban environments, but that are highly beneficial to shaping and strengthening our immune systems.

References

Astell-Burt, Thomas; Feng, Xiaoqi. Increasing Tree Cover May be Like a Superfood for Community Mental Health. 29 July, 2019. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-tree-superfood-mental-health.html

[1]  Astell-Burt, T., & Feng, X. (2019). Association of Urban Green Space With Mental Health and General Health Among Adults in Australia. JAMA network open, 2(7), e198209-e198209. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.8209

Li, Qing. Forest Bathing is Great for Your Health. Here’s How to Do It. 1 May, 2018. Retrieved from https://time.com/5259602/japanese-forest-bathing/

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