Greenspaces/wilderness areas benefits physical, mental health

November 10, 2020
Greenspaces/wilderness areas benefits physical, mental health

A recent study led by researchers from Texas A&M University (TAMU), US, suggests that the calming feeling that accompanies a walk in a park or forest is the result of psychological needs, such as those related to autonomy and competence, being met; spending time in natural areas where trees are plentiful can also provide positive mental and physical health outcomes and improve healing.

Gerard Kyle, professor and associate head at the TAMU Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management, said that, with increased stress and isolation due to COVID-19, natural areas and the psychological benefits they provide are needed now more than ever.

In a cross-sectional study involving some 790 Americans, Kyle and colleagues assessed the respondents’ attachment to a wilderness area or greenspace important to them – the evaluation was based on place identity, emotional attachment and dependence and on how well it met their needs for autonomy and emotional connection. 

The researchers found that place identity was strongly tied to an individual’s psychological need for relatedness or emotional connection, and thus provided unexpected fulfillment to these basic psychological needs.

Other researchers suggest wilderness and treescapes can influence or promote physical, psychological and social health: Gretchen Riley, the TAMU Forest Service project lead for Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives, said literature shows treescapes impact human health in three main areas, namely obesity, chronic disease and mental health; supporting research shows the various benefits to heart and lung health, skin care and cognitive functioning, among others, from exposure to trees.

Kyle agreed, saying that natural spaces have the potential to improve well-being, beyond just physical health, when brought into cities and urban areas; these natural areas are also known to ameliorate threats of flooding, urban heat, water quality and air pollution—improving overall quality of life.

Ensuring access to natural areas has become increasingly important in the wake of COVID-19, “Green spaces, particularly those close to home, provide opportunities to escape isolation in safe and healthy ways,” Kyle said.

The Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives project by TAMU Forest Service is therefore hoped to bring more trees into the urban environment – especially for those who might not have regular access – to promote human physical and mental health.

“We know trees play an important role in human health and promote wellness [and] we know that they attract people to the outdoors so they can exercise more, which will reduce risk of chronic disease,” said Patrick Stover, director of TAMU AgriLife Research.

“It is equally important to bring those forests into the urban centres so people can have this exposure to them right at their back yards to promote exercise and the feeling of wellness that one gets when in the presence of trees.”

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Category: Features, Top Story

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