Minimizing the Effects Of Aging: It’s Healthy to Love a Tree

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The Many Health Benefits of Trees

Would you agree that the world is increasingly busy and complex today? With this frenetic pace, you may be missing the benefits provided by nature all around you. You may not even be aware that you've lost your connection to the natural world and all it can provide. A good place to start re-connecting is with a tree. Even in an urban environment, there are measurable effects that are provided by something as simple as adding trees to the landscape.

An article in the Washington Post reported on a large-scale study conducted by the city of Toronto about trees and the health of its residents. Toronto actually keeps a database of its 530,000 trees in public areas and made that data available to researchers. This data along with satellite imagery of backyard trees and health data of Toronto residents were combined and used in this Ontario Health Study.

The results of the study were truly remarkable and eye-opening. Researchers found that when controlled for socioeconomic and demographic factors, “people living in neighborhoods having a higher density of trees on their streets report significantly higher health perception and significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions.” 

Trees Reduce The Effects of Aging

The most fascinating results of the study surrounded the effects of trees on residents who chose to age in place. As few as 10 trees on a city block increased residents perceptions of their health in ways equivalent to being seven years younger! Residents who live on blocks with 11 or more trees report significantly fewer negative effects of aging and significantly reduced cardio-metabolic conditions. These are chronic health problems that can increase the risks of heart disease, diabetes, or stroke. This is the equivalent of being 1.4 years younger.

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The study also noted an interesting point; it appears that the most important trees are street trees. Researchers theorize it's important to have trees that you regularly notice, for example when you're walking or driving along the street, not just trees in your yard that you occasionally notice.

How Trees Can Keep You Healthier

An Atlantic Article titled “The Health Benefits of Trees” mentioned another study that found trees removed over 17 million tons of air pollution in 2010 alone, avoiding 670,000 incidences of acute breathing problems.

Japan has been at the forefront of utilizing trees for health and for reduction of the effects of aging. In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan introduced a practice called “forest bathing” which has become a recognized relaxation practice and method of stress relief throughout the country. Japanese researchers also found that forest bathing increases the body's NK or natural killer cells. The health impact is not a result of vigorous physical exercise in the woods. In fact, forest bathing consists of strolling gently along for 2 to 4 hours, enjoying the forested area with all of your senses. 

Forest bathing guidelines include:
• Noticing the variety of greens in the different trees
• Watching birds, bugs and animals moving throughout the forest canopy and forest floor
• Hearing the songs of birds and the rushing water of nearby streams
• Touching and comparing rough and smooth tree bark
• Enjoying the various fragrances of the forest that come to you on the breeze
• Stopping for a rest or drink when you get tired or thirsty

Tips For Creating A Relaxing Experience At Home 

While you may not be able to duplicate a forest experience in your neighborhood, you can create a sense of relaxation around your home with trees in your yard. Here are some tips to help you get started.

• Evaluate your existing trees. Make sure they are healthy. Have them occasionally pruned by a certified arborist to remove dead branches, branches that are crossed and those weakly joined to the trunk. Avoid over-watering, over-fertilizing, and installing competing plants in their root zone. Many trees are happy just to be left alone to nourish themselves!

• Use native varieties in your garden. Look for natives that like the soil and growing conditions in your neighborhood. A tree native to the acid sandy soils in Florida may not be happy in the alkaline clay found in much of Texas.

• Create a path in your yard that lets you walk under tree branches , close enough to run your fingers along the bark or touch leaves.

• Consider where the breezes enter your yard. Align the path, so scents rising from the leaves on a hot afternoon immerse you as you linger in the tree's shade.

• Plan your garden for seasonal changes. Let your path take you close enough to a flowering tree to get drifting petals in your hair. Allow falling leaves to gather on the edges of your path next to a bench, so you notice the amazing autumn colors when you stop to rest and relax.

Even strolling in your yard and enjoying the strong presence of one or two trees can be beneficial to your health and reduce the effects of aging.

Want to Do More?

Want to slow the effects of aging and be 7 years younger? Work to add 10 more trees to the city block where you live! The Toronto study clearly shows the benefits of trees in your community. If there isn't one already in place in your community, start a chapter of Tree City USA. This organization is affiliated with the Arbor Day Foundation and encourages the development of community tree planning, planting, and maintenance programs.

Ask your city management or your homeowner's association about street tree inventories. If your municipality does not have a staff arborist or tree management ordinances, the US Forest Service can help with information about taking and managing a street tree inventory in your community.

Getting back to nature and immersing yourself in the great outdoors can not only improve your mood, but it can also improve your overall health and add years to your life. Start close to home and take action. You'll not only improve your community, but you'll also reduce the effects of aging!