I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We like to get out and among the trees once and a while. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, though the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.
Trees, They’re Important
This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.
There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.
In the following, I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles, which I will be posting links to at the end of this piece. So let’s start with our mental health and general mood.
Trees & Our Mental Health
There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees, may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.
The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists. But the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.
Being surrounded by trees also heightens our physical well being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.
This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees that scrub our air, work by way of the leaves, needles and the thousands of tiny pores on each. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in their body and leaves.
So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery while being most tightly packed together. A catch 22 for sure.
Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.
And All the Things
It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.
The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.
And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.
It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.
Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood. It’s here where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to our Co2 problem.
It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by WBUR 90.9 Boston, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why preserving the trees we already have is so important.
Getting Involved & How to Help
So with all these health benefits that trees provide for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help. Below I’ll be listing a few of the organizations. Hopefully you’ll find something that matches your lifestyle and personality.
The Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only our environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed. By drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.
Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.
And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks. To be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering C02 and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.
The Nature Conservancy
This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed as well. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.
They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of them ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.
Rainforest Action Network
This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to burning the rainforests to grow food crops to be sold at market.
Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet, from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.
It’s Not too Late
You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed. Or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or preferred method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs us. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )
Other reading to consider: Sustainable Clothing
Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0