I usually write these articles from my home office. Right now, however, I can’t be there. Instead, I’m writing to you from a family member’s home, where I’ll be staying for a few days. It wasn’t a planned visit, but something unexpected came up that forced me from my home.
You see I live smack-dab in the middle of a city. There is a small park across the street but for the most part, I’m surrounded by concrete, asphalt, cars, and noise. And earlier this week, a construction project began in my building that made it nearly impossible to get quality work done. After being unable to take it anymore, I decided to get out of the city and spend a few days in a place where I could get a little more peace and quiet.
The environment around you plays a significant role in your health. It affects your stress levels, ability to sleep, concentration, and a number of physiological systems. It might not seem like a big deal, but where you live can put you at risk for a number of health problems.
The U.S. Forest Services recently collaborated with a group of scientists and other professionals to assess the value of the physical environment on a person’s health. They learned that a person’s proximity to trees can have a significant impact on their health risks. Air pollution removed by trees can save more than 850 lives per year and prevent roughly 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms.
If you live in an urban area (80% of Americans do), you should find this interesting. Not only do you have to deal with the effects of bright lights, noise pollution, and a sometimes very stressful high-paced lifestyle (New York City was recently revealed to be the “unhappiest” city in America), but you also have to deal with a number of pollutants that attack your respiratory, cardiac, pulmonary, and vascular systems. Poor air quality can result in cancers, hypertension, and other serious health conditions.
Obviously, the outcome of this study won’t cause cities to be replaced with forested areas, but it is important to consider where you spend your time. If you’re retired and live in the city, for example, moving to a quieter area with more trees might be helpful to your health. If relocation isn’t possible, spending time out of the city or in city parks could also add some relief.
Some cities have taken note of the importance of trees and have been dedicating more land for park space, increased planting, and cultivating to create a healthier environment for city dwellers. In fact, the study said that because of their proximity to people, urban trees are more important than rural trees and the health effects are much more far-reaching.
Finally, pollution reduction is not only beneficial to your health; it’s also a good thing for the healthcare system. Estimates are that even a one-percent improvement in air quality could save nearly $7.0 billion per year in healthcare costs. So in a way, that hike through the woods could be saving you some money in the long run.
There’s no doubt that living in the city creates some health risks, both physical and mental. Getting off of the concrete and asphalt and heading to the trees, whether it be for a few days or just a couple hours, can allow you to relax, reset, catch a breath of fresh air—and ultimately save your health!
Sources for Today’s Article:
University of British Columbia, “Study reveals ‘unhappiest’ cities in the U.S.,” ScienceDaily web site, July 22, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140722103917.htm.
USDA Forest Service, “Trees save lives, reduce respiratory problems,” ScienceDaily web site, July 25, 2014; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140725163557.htm.