Growing up, my favourite times were spent tearing about in woods and climbing trees, so I’ve always had a deep love and respect for our leafy friends. In fact, if you cut me in half, you’d probably find tree sap flowing through my veins instead of blood!
Lately, I’ve been pleased to note that an increasing number of scientific studies are backing up what people like me and Belinda already know instinctively: that trees really are good for us.
In Japan, “forest bathing”, as they term it, (shinrin-yoku), has long been recognised as a healthy pastime. Research carried out by the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo found that visiting forest parks significantly enhanced the activity of human natural killer cells (NK), a type of white blood cell important in fighting tumours and viruses (Li et al, International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology 2007, vol. 20, pages 3-8). This amazing effect is thought to be due to the action of chemicals released by the trees, known as phytoncides, coupled with a decrease in our production of stress hormone cortisol. There is also evidence to suggest that spending time in woods reduces blood glucose levels and blood pressure.
Another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567) found that spending time in nature affects our mental well-being too, decreasing obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.
Once I started looking, I found all kinds of studies and research—overwhelmingly in favour of the trees. They can absorb a range of air-borne pollutants which might otherwise exacerbate respiratory and heart conditions or carry carcinogens into our lungs. And green spaces have been found to have a beneficial impact on people with dementia and similar conditions.
A tree gives a home to so many
And charges no rent—not a penny!
Of course, trees are important for many reasons other than our health. They are crucial in mitigating climate change, by absorbing carbon, and they reduce flood risk. They are vital for wildlife, providing shelter and food for insects and birds, not to mention timber and edibles for us. What’s not to love?
Although some of these findings may seem obvious, I believe research which supports wild spaces is vital. With our children spending more and more time closeted indoors, and consideration for nature slipping off the agenda in terms of school curricula, politics and the relentless pursuit of economic growth, being able to quantify the wonderful effects of the big outdoors becomes ever more important.
For the more nature is valued, the more it will be protected.