Urban Trees Found to Improve Mental and General Health

A study shows that adults living in leafy neighborhoods have a lower risk of developing psychological distress.  (Image: via   pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
A study shows that adults living in leafy neighborhoods have a lower risk of developing psychological distress. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

People living in urban areas have a lower risk of developing psychological distress and better overall health if they have more trees within a walkable distance from their homes, an Australian study by University of Wollongong (UOW) researchers has found.

In neighborhoods with a tree canopy of 30 percent or more, adults had 31 percent lower odds of developing psychological distress, and 33 percent lower odds of rating their general health as “fair” or “poor” over six years. Urban green spaces with open grass rather than a tree canopy did not deliver the same benefits.

The longitudinal study tracked changes in the health of around 46,000 people aged 45 and older living in Sydney, Newcastle, and Wollongong. Statistical analyses took into account other possible explanations, including differences in age, sex, income, education, employment status, and relationship status.

The study’s lead author, Professor Thomas Astell-Burt, an NHMRC Boosting Dementia Research Leadership Fellow at UOW, said while other studies had indicated that green space was good for mental health, this new research specifically looked at whether the type of green space made a difference:

There are a number of reasons why trees could be beneficial to our health, said Associate Professor Xiaoqi Feng, an NHMRC Career Development Fellow at UOW. One obvious benefit was that trees provide shading and reduce city temperatures on hot days.

Other benefits are more subtle. Green, leafy trees can provide sensory relief in urban areas dominated by hard surfaces, right angles, glass and concrete, and intrusive, attention-seeking advertising. Associate Professor Feng said:

Tree cover also provides spaces where people can benefit from interacting with each other and with animals, such as bird watching and walking dogs, which can all be good for mental health.

Provided by: Ben Long, University of Wollongong [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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