Los Angeles, CA

Love Your Health? Hug a Tree

Sabriga Turgon

You just need to stand by one for your body to be better

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Yikes, when the weather is hot — quick, go stand in the shade of a tree!

Shade, climbing, and tree houses are what many people think of as the best benefits of nearby trees. What we don’t realize is that some of the relaxation we feel is because trees affect our mood, our sense of the future, our cognitive function, and help with many chronic diseases.

Maybe it’s because trees and green plants emit an energy humans need to feel whole, and maybe it’s because trees and shrubs planted close together near a noise source help block and reduce its noise pollution.

Assistant professor Peter James in Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Heath, Department of Environmental Health says trees are essential to long-term changes in depression and anxiety, cognitive health and decline, and incidences of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Need more proof? Researchers found that being in nature or just having green space near you improves cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity, and sleep.

Oh, those trees — they’re good for just about everything.

Making trees a part of our everyday lives creates greater community health.

Planting more trees and developing more parks in populated areas benefits humans by reducing stress and uplifting spirits; it benefits Mother Nature by providing homes and food to animals; and it builds better cities by reducing urban heat islands.

Those gorgeous trees you’re jogging past are cooling the air and reducing peak summer high temps by 2–9°F, helping cool both inside and outside air temperatures. Tree leaves absorb about 70–90% of a scorching mid-day sun’s energy or reflect it back into the atmosphere. Given that most skin cancer is caused by sun exposure, reading a book as you sit under a shady tree is a lot healthier than reading it baking in the sun on the beach.

Trees are super-heroes for removing particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, and ground-level ozone from the air. So when you’re breathing heavy during your daily run, you’re sucking in more invigorating oxygen released from the trees and less air pollution or evaporative emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from parked cars.

But don’t just ponder the sweat-eliminating benefits on a blistering hot day — consider your long-term health. Particulate matter and nitrogen oxide in the air increase rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and cerebrovascular disease (CBV) hospitalization. Trees help heal them.

Studies show that patients recovering from surgery in hospital rooms whose windows face natural scenes had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluations in nurse’s notes, and took fewer painkillers than patients with windows facing a brick wall.

Remember the last time you were upset and somebody said, “Oh, just go hug a tree or something”?

You don’t? Not surprising—so many urban dwellers rarely spend any time in green spaces (because those green spaces don’t exist) that they don’t even think of going to nature for respite, hope, and healing.

Parks and green spaces seem luxurious — after all, we mostly see them in the affluent areas of town. But they have so many benefits, every one of us should encourage our city planners to build more green spaces and plant more trees throughout every section of the city.

Why should cities care? Because students of any age who have regular access to green spaces (or even just have a view of nature out the window) concentrate better, and are calmer and happier. But trees don’t just make a teacher’s job easier, access to green spaces in early childhood increases children’s non-verbal intelligence and visual memory.

Tree People, the can’t-stop-won’t-stop tree-planting organization in Los Angeles, CA has begun a project to plant 1,000 trees in Watts, a low-income area of the city because they know trees provide 22 benefits to people and communities:

  1. Combat climate change
  2. Clean the air
  3. Provide oxygen
  4. Cool streets and cities
  5. Conserve energy
  6. Save water
  7. Prevent water pollution
  8. Prevent soil erosion
  9. Shield children from ultra-violet rays
  10. Provide food
  11. Heal
  12. Reduce violence
  13. Mark the seasons
  14. Create economic opportunity
  15. Are teachers and playmates
  16. Bring diverse people together
  17. Promote unity
  18. Provide canopy and habitat for wildlife
  19. Beautify spaces
  20. Provide wood
  21. Increase property values
  22. Increase business traffic

For too many of us, connecting to nature requires car trips to faraway places — trips that may be too expensive or inconvenient to make.

But studies show that time spent in nature leads to more connectedness to all that Mother Nature has to give, teach, and build — including creating more passionate pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Bring the nature back to the people and create a healthier planet.

What if we gauged our wealth by the number of trees we plant?

Plant a tree today!

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Helping us get along with each other, the earth, and our precarious future. I write about the beautiful strangeness of life, women & kids, the planet's survival, and reflections from my 60s And I'll help you write your book.

Los Angeles, CA
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