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  • Writer's pictureStephen Birchard

Trees Make Us Healthier

Updated: Oct 3, 2021

Photo courtesy of Dr. Marvin Olmstead

From the Boreal forests in Northern Canada to the lush tropics of the Amazon rain forest, trees are ubiquitous. In this time of concern over global warming, they have become the focus of attention for many environmentalists. Since they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, trees could be considered the lungs of the earth. Our lungs do the opposite; we breath in oxygen, breath out carbon dioxide. So trees are not just good for us, they're essential.

We've known for years that trees are beneficial to the environment, but now multiple studies have shown additional unexpected rewards. Better physical and mental health, improved test scores for children, and increased value of neighborhoods have all been attributed to living near trees. In their article "The benefits of trees for livable and sustainable communities" in Plants, People, Planet, authors JB Turner-Skoff and N Cavender review an array of scientific studies that conclusively show a wide range of tangible benefits of trees. They reduce air pollution and cool ground temperatures making properties and neighborhoods more comfortable and ultimately helping to reduce global warming.

My family and I have personal experience with the cooling effect of mature trees. At our home in Indianapolis we had 14 black walnut trees and several ash trees in the back yard. The deck off the back of the house was completely shaded by these trees, and the air temperature was consistently 10 degrees cooler than in the sun. In our current backyard in Toledo, we have 4 monstrous cottonwood trees that, with their shimmering leaves, provide wonderful shade and are a joy to watch.(see video) Yes, in the spring we have cottonwood seed snowstorms, but that's a small price to pay for the majesty of these trees.

Trees have been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress, and people living in communities with trees have fewer cardiac and neurologic diseases. They encourage physical activity and improve mental health. Conversely, loss of trees in neighborhoods results in greater crime rates and increased incidence of respiratory diseases in the home owners.

Trees have other surprising positive effects on children. Green environments with trees lower symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, and students in schools surrounded by trees show improved classroom attention and higher graduation rates. All this besides the obvious educational benefit of learning about trees and their importance for health of the earth.

In their article Turner-Skoff and Cavender go on to describe many other reasons to preserve or establish trees in cities and suburbs. They help manage stormwater systems by absorbing rain water and stabilizing the ground, and of course they provide valuable habitat and food for animals.

In summary, let's look no further than the example of Dr. Seuss's Lorax, who says: "I speak for the trees!" Let's plant more and preserve the ones we have.

"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees!"

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