Trees & Mental Health. Specific Green Spaces May Help Mind & Body:
Just like we talked about before, as more data becomes accessible, Science is going to newer and weirder places to find solutions to problems.
The other side of that is science going to similar places to find Benefits, too.
And what does everyone’s Mom keep saying when they’re little? Go outside and play.
Aside from the Exercise, Vitamin D, and the Novelty,
There has always been something about being out in Nature that just seems to do us good.
But what is it? Some Australian researchers may have just figured that out…
The Outdoors Really Is Great:
So why do some environments affect us in such positive ways?
And how can we improve our health in as many different habitable locations by adding these improvements?
Because any type of Environment is still a factor in your health.
The Short Answer for the current study is researchers found reasonable evidence that suggests it’s actually Trees that are healthier for us in the outdoors. Not just green-spaces.
Read on to find out the details…
Ancient Practices Can Sometimes Hold The Key:
Ancient man was not stupid, and though some of their practices attempting to try to understand the universe might have been,
Not all of them were.
So the king of all Environmental-Health remedies is something called Forest Bathing.
It’s an old practice from Japan that was revived in the 80s.
It’s also very much like an old practice from 1890s USA of getting outside into a big lodge in the middle of a pine forest.
The idea was that somehow being in the forest and seeing all the sights and smelling everything somehow made you healthier.
So Forest Bathing Goes Like This:
1) Forest Bathing (or Nature Therapy) is supervised by a guide trained in the specific Japanese procedure.
2) It has come to mean a quiet, mostly-silent, stroll through the forest.
3) The leader doing a sort-of guided Mindfulness Meditation as you go.
4) The guide will call people’s attention to different natural features, or sensory-perceptions.
5) They will occasionally get you to touch or interact with simple items like leaves or trees.
6) This will mostly be to touching the bark or forest-item to smell what phytochemicals it leaves on your hands.
7) Most short, benign, interactions with the forest will be encouraged, and don’t usually mean tearing the place down just for the trip.
8) It’s also not a speed-hike full of competition.
9) All Electronics should either be left behind or switched-off.
10) At the end, there is usually some kind of post-hike Tea service.
11) The group will then sit & discuss their experience together with the guide as they wish.
Trees, Mental Health & Green-Spaces. Here Are The Study Results:
So for residents of 3 large Australian cities,
The researchers looked at almost 47,000 residents over the course of 3 years for the first interview.
The same subjects were also interviewed six years later.
These older-people were given a 10-item questionnaire that evaluated their psychological stress,
Including how far away they were from a serious version of it,
And also taking into account potential Anxiety &/or Depression.
This data was then paired with satellite data on the degree to which their neighborhood-block had any green-spaces.
This also included differentiation between varying types of green-space like Trees, Grass, Shrubs, or other greenery.
Then after that, all of this was controlled for demographic factors like Income, Age, Education, and Gender.
And the final results came in, which confirmed earlier work in the same space:
Greater exposure to green-spaces is correlated with better mental-health and lower levels of distress.
But Wait! I Thought You Were Just Talking About Trees!:
AHA! But Wait!
The results get even more interesting than that!
Because having an abundance of low-lying vegetation like shrubs and bushes had no particular association at-all.
And exposure to environments with greenery consisting exclusively of Grass was associated with Higher probability of psychological-distress!
So, admittedly by process of elimination, the beneficial-effects of green-spaces seem to come almost exclusively from Trees!
Moreover, the results showed that for the minimum-level of 30% tree-cover,
The incidence of mental-distress was more than 30% less than for people living in areas that had less than 10% tree-cover.
So More Tree-Cover Is Better For Mental-Health. How Does This Work?:
The study authors, Thomas Astell-Burt, & Xiaoqi Feng think that Trees can help in a few ways:
1) Lowering Temperatures In Sunny & Hot Weather.
2) Reducing Ambient Noise-Pollution by diffusing it off the leaves.
3) Potentially Reducing Air-Pollution
4) Trees Support Greater Biodiversity Than Grassland, other studies correlate this with better mental-health
Which Brings Us Back To Forest-Bathing!:
Now the authors of the Australian study might seem to be reaching.
But there is an awful lot of increasing-evidence that supports their conclusions.
Especially from the Forest-Bathers.
And the list of their health-benefits is pretty long and includes:
1) Improved Immune System functioning,
1a) Increase in the body’s Natural Killer (NK) Cell Count
2) Reduced Blood Pressure
3) Reduced Stress
4) Reduced Anxiety & Depression
5) Increased Creative Problem-Solving
6) Accelerated Recovery from Surgery or Illness
7) Increased Energy
8) Improved Sleep
-Just to name a few!
Now if a forest is an absolutely-gigantic ecosystem with all kinds of crazy stuff in it,
Are urban or suburban tree-scapes likely to compete?
Not really, but the difference they make seems to be significant.
And anyone who’s been in southern-latitudes during warm or hot weather can tell you that the escape from the sun alone is worth the trouble the city-planners went to!
It’s Evoution, Baby!:
Now here’s another thought.
Our bodies are old hardware trying to run new software and it doesn’t always work.
In the western world, we now have access to more calories than we could ever need,
We have also only been living outside the natural-environment in towns and cities far-removed from it for just over 1,000 years.
Depending on how you count, that’s 1% of upright-human evolution’s timespan and .1% of primate-evolution’s timespan.
-A drop in the evolutionary-bucket!
So maybe when we go back into a Forest for some Shinrin-Yoku, or get close-enough to a quantity of trees,
Our senses immediately recognize it as home-environment and our bodies and minds start working better in every way once we’re there?
I mean, for the Hygiene Hypothesis, children raised on or near farms have far fewer allergies and auto-immune problems as adults.
So maybe something similar is going on in forests or neighborhoods with trees?
Like the most-effective possible macro-biome version of Aromatherapy; -except it’s not smells, it’s biological-agents?
Or if you like, the exact-opposite of “Sick Building Syndrome”.
The Evidence Stacks-Up:
So along with those ideas,
Maybe all those ancient-practices and recent studies really are stacking up.
In-addition to those, up until recently, the world was a pretty dirty place.
The US didn’t even start chlorinating its drinking-water until 1908.
And the Clean Water Act was passed in the 70s!
So this also means that our immune-systems had a lot to deal with up until very-recently.
Isn’t it strange then that it’s been speculated that the hyper-clean modern world actually results in some auto-immune diseases?
Well, what if getting back out into nature counteracts that in some way?
Could it possibly be reducing Inflammation in your body, and possibly your brain, too?
So Go Be A Tree-Hugger!:
What if a lot of the studies that keep telling you to get outside to improve your health,
Aren’t just about Cardiovascular Exercise?
Maybe it’s something more unexpected and atmospheric?
-Like a Forest Microbiome?
Or even just Trees in some places?
So get out there and find some trees and hug them to say thanks!
And go get yourself outside, and thank Mother Nature and her trees for your mental-health!
Photo Credits: Bob Ross painting happy trees for the PBS show, “The Joy Of Painting”, by Bob Ross, Inc.
• Source: UOW Australia
• More Coverage: NPS – Nature Is Good For You!
• Source Study: JamaNetworkOpen – Association of Urban Green Space With Mental Health and General Health Among Adults in Australia