August 21st, 2012 by

Urban forests are vital to help maintain our emotional, mental and physical well-being.

Credit: Alex E. Proimos/Flickr

The evening before I had wrist surgery a few weeks ago, I went for a jog. In a time when I was feeling anxious and just needed some time to think about the road of recovery ahead of me, I found myself jogging along a neighborhood trail within my local urban forest. I couldn’t help but notice that my surroundings immediately made me feel much better — more relaxed and encouraged to cope with the challenges ahead. That evening, I ran past the oaks, sycamores, sweetgums and elms of my community, leaving my worries behind me and feeling the peaceful strength and soothing encouragement that came from the green landscape around me.

I think most people would agree that seeing trees or being within nature can just make a person feel better — emotionally, mentally and physically. In fact, the National Park Service and Institute of the Golden Gate have recently been involved in promoting the health benefits of being outside through a program called “Park Prescriptions,” which helps connect healthcare and park resources.

The Park Prescriptions fact sheet provides several research examples of how exposure to nature has significant health benefits:

  • A Danish study published in 2007 concluded that adults who could easily reach a green space had less stress and a lower body mass. Similar results were reported in a study of more than 3,000 inner-city children in the United States.
  • A 2005 American Journal of Medicine article reported that people with ready access to parks or open spaces were 50 percent more likely to adhere to a regular walking regimen.
  • A 2010 UK study in Environmental Science and Technology showed a positive dose-response relationship between exercise in nature and mental health, particularly for young subjects. 
  • Runners reported lower levels of stress and depression when exercising in nature than when exercising in an urban setting.

Additionally:

As I have been slowly recovering over the past few weeks, I have truly appreciated the urban forest outside of my windows. Not only does it offer a pleasant view that blocks the busy highway, but it also offers habitat for wildlife that allows me to enjoy the song birds and rhythmic tunes of the cicadas — helping to bring a sense of peace and relaxation to my environment as I recover.

Have you ever felt that your urban forest helped improve your stress, recovery or overall state of mind?