Trees and their benefits to our immune systems

Spending short amounts of time amongst trees has been shown to benefit our immune systems and significantly improve our health in a number of ways.

As a family we love to spend time in woods and forests and we are lucky to live within walking distance of some small but lovely areas of trees. The forest seems to calm and stimulate our positive thoughts and our children delight in play in the most natural of playgrounds.

There is a growing body of scientific research which shows a direct link between trees and human well-being. One key study has shown improvements in immune function in people who spend time walking in wooded areas. Trees produce aromatic compounds called phytoncides which have been shown to increase NK cell ( a type of white blood cell concerned with immunity) activity and intracellular and anti-cancer proteins in lymphocytes (white blood cells).

The most widely understood impact on human health is the ability of trees to sequester carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, whilst producing the oxygen essential for human life, but trees can also help to heal those who already suffer from breathing problems. One study showed the positive health effects on patients with COPD noting that patients inflammation and stress levels were reduced after walking in wooded areas.

Trees are also linked with improved cardio-vascular health, one study compared the walks of participants in both urban and forest environments and showed that walking amongst trees lowered blood pressure, cortisol levels and pulse rates. Particularly notable is a study which showed the negative impact on women’s health of tree loss, where women were shown to have a higher cardio vascular disease risk in areas which had lost their trees ( in this case due to ash die back ).

Trees are linked to lower levels of crime in neighbourhoods with more tree coverage in all ranges of socio-economic level. It is thought that increased ‘greenness’ in neighbourhoods seems to encourage more people to spend time outside of their homes and are therefore a more visible deterrent to anti-social behaviour. Interestingly, this study showed no correlation between acreage of parkland and decreased crime, supporting the idea that trees themselves help to lower crime.

The forest is always beautiful, in the bare depths of winter when the trees form sculptural silhouettes against the lower winter sun or now, when the forest floor is bejewelled with the spring colours and scents of bluebells, the star shaped blooms of wild garlic and the pops of colour provided by pink and red campion against the foil of the lime green newness of the spring leaves. In our daily walks we take time to pause, breathe deeply and play.

Resources for families

The Woodland Trust – fun adventures for children and families

The National Trust- 50 things to do before you are 11 and 3/4 – No 1- Get to know a tree.

Take Action To Protect Our Trees

Stop HS2

Save your local trees by using a Tree Preservation Order

Start Your Own Forests

Tree Planting ‘has mind blowing potential’ to end the climate crisis- The Guardian

The Woodland Trust – tree planting packs

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