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One Tree A Day ...

January 6, 2011

In the office last week  I noticed a fellow arborist having a bad day. He was working on some research and was staring at the computer screen all morning, and he had a pretty bad headache. Attempting to ignore it wasn't helping. At lunchtime, he decided to go outside and take a walk through the nearby park.

Before he left, it seemed like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. But when he came back, he was a different man. He walked with a lighter step. His headache had faded. He smiled more easily. And he took the rest of the day's challenges in stride, not letting anything frustrate him too quickly.

It was a complete transformation.

What made all the difference in my coworker's day?

An outdoor walk amongst the trees has this kind of power, says Japan's National Land Afforestation Program Organization.

The organization did an experiment comparing the physiological benefits of walking in the city with walking in one of Japan's few remaining old leaf forests. People who viewed forest scenery for as little as 20 minutes had a 13 percent lower blood concentration of the stress hormone cortisol, the study found. It also revealed concrete evidence that a forest stroll has beneficial effects on blood pressure, heart rate and the immune system, and it boosts intracellular anti-cancer proteins and decreases  blood glucose levels of diabetic patients.

In more recent years, certified life coach Karin Marcus says the field of eco-psychology is expanding - this is the basic idea that humankind's disconnect with nature and its renewing rhythms are a central contributing factor to most emotional woes. "The mind, which has been shaped by the modern world, is readily comforted by the wider natural world from which it evolved," Marcus explains.

What does this mean?

Get outside, encourages R.J. Laverne, The Davey Tree Expert Co.'s manager of education and training.

"There is a magnificent range of benefits trees provide to people," says Laverne,  who is working on his doctorate, studying the connection between trees and people. "Some of the benefits are easy to understand, like oxygen, shade, energy conservation, storm water interception and reduction of rain water runoff. But then there is this interesting set of benefits that are not as easy to quantify, and that's the connection people have with trees and what they can do for them mentally and physically."

And he's got a lot to study.

  • Cornell University research in 2009 showed the importance of green housing and neighborhoods to the health and well-being of older adults.
  • Research shows hospital patients with window views of trees need less pain medication and are discharged sooner than patients with treeless views.
  • A Chicago-based report showed residents living in apartments with window views of trees show significantly less aggression toward family members than those whose windows look onto concrete, asphalt or barren earth. This includes making fewer insults and threats and exhibiting other psychologically aggressive behavior.
  • Police reports reveal lower crime rates in areas of public housing developments with a density of trees.
  • Realtors say homeowners with trees on or near their properties describe their quality of life as safer, more pleasant and more satisfying than homeowners without trees nearby.
  • Given a choice between a scene with trees and one without, a survey showed people of all ages and ethnic groups prefer the scene with trees, regardless of whether they live in urban, suburban or rural areas.

Like all systems in the human body and mind, disuse and overuse lead to disorders, according to internationally certified fitness and strength trainer Subhasis Banerji. "Today's society is bound by four walls with high rises just outside our windows, vehicles for transport where we are again enclosed and once more the four walls of our office or our schools," says Banerji, who has studied the effects of these limited views on the aging of our eyes. "We are lucky if we happen to live in a city that is green, otherwise we see very few trees."

While there's no solid proof that my coworker's headache and bad day was cured by a dose of trees, I think a bit of fresh air and "green" time can be just what the doctor ordered.

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