Almost anyone could make a long list of the many ways trees directly benefit our lives. It might take a while, however, before they’d think to list relief from stress or increased vitality to our communities. These are just a couple of the social benefits of trees that researchers have identified. The more we study trees, the more we find that there’s even more to gain from them than just firewood, lumber and shade.
1.Trees as Healers
You are lying in bed in the hospital recovering from surgery and turn toward the window for some inspiration. A view of the air conditioner units on the adjacent roof will not provide as much restorative affect as a view of a more natural setting. You may recover from surgery faster if you can see trees outside your hospital window.
A six-year study of post-operative patients with the same type of surgery in the same hospital showed that patients with views of nature were able to be released a day sooner—eight days instead of nine days—than patients with “barren” window views. What’s more, patients with natural views requested less pain medication, and a study of nurses’ notes confirmed those patients generally reported feeling better.
2. Trees at WorkViews of nature assist in the workplace as well. A survey of more than 700 employees in private and public sectors assessed job satisfaction and performance as it relates to views of nature from work stations. Desk workers with views of nature reported almost 15 percent fewer illnesses than those without a view.
Natural views contributed to workers feeling more satisfied, enthusiastic and less frustrated than those whose windows did not provide a view of nature. The more green seen from their windows, the better employees felt.
3. Revitalizing DowntownsResearch suggests trees contribute positively to downtown shopping areas. A study comparing downtown business districts reveals that people will drive from farther away to shop in tree-lined downtown districts than they will to shop in downtowns without trees. They’ll also spend more time shopping and come back more frequently.
People also are willing to pay more for parking and spend more money on goods and entertainment in downtowns with trees. In fact, downtowns with full-canopy shade trees are perceived as having better character and containing stores with better products and merchants than treeless shopping districts.
4. Stress Relief
Researchers found that people in housing surrounded by trees and lawns report their life issues feel less difficult. They also procrastinate less and have higher attention spans than those whose apartment buildings have no grass and trees around them.
Park users in Cleveland reported that urban forests and parks offered more privacy and tranquility than their homes. To escape crowds, work, home routines and associates, they sought out heavily forested areas with nearby running water or with unpaved paths. They used such places for reflective thought, resting their minds and thinking creatively.
5. Trees for Learning
Trees improve children’s ability to concentrate and their reasoning skills.
A Swedish study of day care centers found that children attending facilities with natural settings and providing year-round outdoor play under trees had better motor abilities and concentration skills than children at day care centers surrounded by buildings and with less opportunity for outdoor play.
In another study, three groups of people were tested on their proofreading skills, then tested again. The first group was retested after taking an urban vacation, the second group after going backpacking and the third group without taking a vacation. Only the group who went backpacking showed improved proofreading scores.
Researchers also report that students with views of trees and grass from their college dormitories reported better attention skills than students with more barren views.
6. Focusing attention
One in 14 children and many adults suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. ADHD symptoms include restlessness, trouble listening, antisocial behavior, aggression and difficulty focusing on tasks.
A nationwide research project assessed how playing in a “green” environment affects the symptoms of this disease. They found that playing outside in natural environments reduces kids’ ADHD symptoms more than indoor play or outdoor play at basketball courts or skate parks. The more green and natural the setting, the more ADHD symptoms were relieved.
One study participant whose son had ADHD reported the only way she found to keep him in school for the entire day without being sent home for behavioral problems was to let him play in a park for a half hour in the morning before school.
7. Improving Communities
Have you noticed how neighborhoods with trees seem to have lots of folks out strolling in late afternoons? You’ll also see more kids playing on lawns, people barbecuing on patios and folks relaxing or working in their yards.
In a study of public housing projects, researchers found that people living in buildings surrounded by green socialize more with neighbors than those living in buildings with stark landscapes. They also reported a greater sense of community with their neighbors.
For the sake of commuters, the sick, your neighbors, coworkers, children, and the vitality of our down town districts—plant and protect trees. They help us in ways we are only beginning to understand.