Wouldn’t you rather look at trees than other buildings? It just makes sense that people who live near parks and greenspaces are healthier and feel happier than the average urbanite. And research seems to corroborate that idea.
A 2009 University of Wisconsin survey about depression, anxiety and stress found that a significant number of people who lived in neighborhoods with more tree cover tended to be happier. Likewise, a 2013 study conducted by psychologists at European Centre for Environment & Human Health surveyed 10,000 city-dwellers about their mental health and well-being.
That study found that most people experienced lower levels of mental distress and higher levels of well-being when they lived near greenspaces in their urban areas. The authors point out that parks can positively influence entire neighborhoods, so the collective influence of parks on the well-being of a city can be enormous.
And talking a stroll in the woods or around a park, even for 20 minutes a day, gives us a chance to stretch our legs, reconnect with nature, and absorb the antioxidant and neuroprotective properties of vitamin D from the sunlight kissing our skin.
In Japan, the practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” is an age-old practice of walking though wooded areas to improve mental and physical health. The experience involves appreciating the sounds of birdsong and leaves rustling in the breeze, the look and feel of filtered sunlight, and breathing the scented woodland air.
All trees and plants release tiny molecules called phytoncides that help protect them from insect attacks and diseases. Breathing in these molecules is known to have a beneficial effect on us, as they decrease the production of stress hormones by our bodies. Stress inhibits the immune functions that defend us against bacteria and viruses.