I notice trees more in the spring than any time of year, even fall. In Ohio, we have an abundance of redbud and dogwood that pepper our buckeye landscape. At a geographic health conference I attended a few years ago, there was a seminar on the value of trees, urban forests and green space on public health. I have been aware of economic and environmental benefits of natural features but have not considered the public health benefits. Environmental and economic benefits include reducing carbon dioxide and air pollutants, providing shade near homes and reducing air conditioning costs, and adding value to real estate to name a few.
According to University of Washington professor Kathleen Wolf, who was the speaker at this conference, there is a growing body of research documenting the public health benefits of trees and natural features. As you’ve probably heard, 2 out 3 adults do not get enough physical activity which contributes to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. The “built environment” where people live can have an impact on their behaviors. Studies suggest that people are more likely to walk places in communities that have more trees and natural features. Tree-lined sidewalks have more pedestrian traffic than those that do not. One reason for this phenomenon is that trees and natural features might influence motivations and perceptions. People judge tree-lined walking routes to have shorter distance those routes that do not have trees. People also feel that trees can give them more protection from cars if they are planted between roads and sidewalks.
Trees and natural features can have a positive impact on emotional well being- such as reducing stress. In one particular study, mentioned by the presenter, people with elevated blood pressure were asked to take a long walk. Those who walked in a nature preserve showed a decline in blood pressure, while it increased for those walking in the urban environment. Also, subjects walking in the nature preserve showed increases in positive emotions, while those in the urban environment showed reduced levels. Children who are exposed to trees and natural surrounding are more likely to have positive developmental outcomes and less likely to have attention deficit disorder. Inner city girls exposed to natural views at home have more self discipline and better concentration.
Communities and buildings surrounded by more trees and green space also report less vandalism and less crime. One theory is that natural areas build community. In other words, more people are likely to spend time outside getting to know their neighbors and thus look out for each other.
Plant a tree this spring!!