How Trees Help Us Live Longer

Shaggy bark Closeup

Trees help us live longer. They actualize our lives.

Articles are everywhere now citing research that actually proves trees, and plants, make us substantially healthier. 

“It is becoming increasingly clear that trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published this week. And we’re only beginning to understand the nature and magnitude of their tree-benevolence… New research says the closer you can live to trees, the better off you are. ”

James Hamblin, The Atlantic (2014, July 29).  The Health Benefits of Trees

In Japan they even do something called…

‘”Shinrin-yoku“, which can be defined as “taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing”, has been receiving increasing attention in Japan in recent years for its capacity to provide relaxation and reduce stress.’

Environ Health Prev Med. 2010 Jan;15(1):27-37

“The results of [forest] walking experiments provided similar results…demonstrated that immune function was enhanced by forest therapy in middle-aged employees who volunteered to participate in these experiments. Natural killer cell activity, an indicator of immune function, was enhanced by 56% on the second day and returned to normal levels. A significant increase of 23% was maintained for 1 month even after returning to urban life, clearly illustrating the preventive benefits of forest therapy. 

Nihon Eiseigaku Zasshi. 2014;69(2):122-35

shirin-yoku hawaii

Now, research is showing that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits, both mental and physical. Even five minutes around trees or in green spaces may improve health. Think of it as a prescription with no negative side effects that’s also free…While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells or NK. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 30 days. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.”

Immerse Yourself in a Forest for Better Health.  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

phytoncides

If you haven’t heard the story about how my family ended up in the Country, then it’s time I tell you…

My husband Eric and I loved the city (notice the past tense…okay, we still have a place for the city in our hearts, but it’s not the same kinda love). We loved living in all the action and right where the newest restaurants and bars were popping up on every corner. Living in a beautiful high-rise condo, on the 21st floor, we still had this feeling that something was missing. We thought maybe it was because we needed a dog.  So, of course, we adopted a 10-week old puppy named Koa. 

We spent much of our time training Koa to be a loving, well-behaved dog (still working on that; she’s sweet, but a little nuts).  I loved taking her for 1 or 2 hour walks in Chicago, in hopes of giving her the life she deserved.  I noticed quickly that there wasn’t a single place I could walk Koa on the grass.  She loved the grass!  But, get this: dogs aren’t allowed on the grass in the city!  Honestly, there’s not much grass at all, and there aren’t many trees either.  


This experience with our dog is what really planted the “country seed”.  It started to hit me and Eric at the same time!  Now, imagine being Eric; he grew up around lush plants and natural elements, in Hawaii, well into his 20’s.  As for myself, I can think back to the times I would relieve daily stress by rollerblading in the forest preserve where I grew up.

There’s something about nature that you can’t quite explain, but we NEED it.

Seeing my dog roll around in the grass, like a pig in the mud, was a HUGE wake-up call for me.

All across the generations passed, and the millions of years we’ve existed as a species, we have lived our lives as one with nature!  Amongst nature.  Surrounded by nature.  Guided by nature.  

Most of us are so far removed from nature now that we think it’s disgusting to step foot outside without our shoes on (Hi.  I’m raising my hand here too because this was me up until just about a year ago).

Koa In Grass

Welllll, fast-forward a couple of years, and we decided to make the leap.  We left the city.  We found an amazing home, tucked away in the woods, inside 10 acres of wild oak-wood forests; and we’re only 45 minutes from Chicago.  

Life is good.  

We have a new sense of purpose.  A new satisfaction in life.  An all-around good feeling.

It’s like we’ve been reborn…we have so much to learn, so much to be grateful for, and we’re surrounded by wonder.

This is what life is about.