AS trees slowly don their autumn coats of brown, russet and golden hues, it’s a delightful time to walk in the woods and forests. And, as an added bonus, such an experience may also be good for our health.
Thousands of years ago, our Celtic ancestors placed a huge value on trees, claiming to draw healing and inspiration from them.
In modern times, surveys in America show that hospital patients whose beds offer a view of trees outside do better than patients with nothing more than concrete walls to look at. There’s a sense of wellbeing about trees. Why after all, do so many people enjoy the simple pleasure of walking among them?
The Celts saw mystical benefits but, on a basic level, trees are often described as the “lungs of the planet” because they draw in carbon dioxide and ‘breathe’ out oxygen. A study in the Journal of Preventative Medicine found there are more deaths from heart and respiratory disease in areas where trees have disappeared. In progressive countries, health care programmes through which GPs refer their patients to forest-based health projects are being pioneered. Access to woodland is being improved and activity in woodlands is being encouraged.
Obviously, people get healthier due to exercise and fresh air, but research also shows trees and forests have an important calming effect,helping to reduce crime and assist recovery from illness. Little wonder then more people are visiting Coillte forests, national parks and woodland trails all over Ireland.
Listing the value of trees, the EarthShare environmental organisation highlights their practical benefits, such as cleaning water. Forests can filter public water supplies and reduce the need for chemical treatment. Trees can also slow down the impact of greenhouse gases; a tree can absorb as much as 25kgs of carbon dioxide per year, thus taking toxins out of the atmosphere.
As our winters are forecast to get wetter, trees can help prevent flooding because they can hold vast amounts of water that would otherwise flow downhill and into towns and cities. Not forgetting wildlife, of course, which use trees for food, shelter and nesting. By protecting trees, we also save all the other plants and animals they shelter.
Surveys in American cities have found that areas with abundant trees have much fewer crimes than those without. Researchers conclude that this is because green spaces have a soothing effect and encourage people to spend more time with their neighbours outdoors, bolstering community trust.
Just like food and water restore bodies, trees can help replenish us mentally. So, tree-hugging is not as daft a thing to do as some people make out– being around trees can be good for our health.
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