The Health (and Other) Benefits of Urban Trees

Margie Siegal--Trees make Alameda more livable, in addition to their beauty.

The Health (and Other) Benefits of Urban Trees

Many of us enjoy viewing the canopy of full-grown trees that grace many Alameda streets, but trees are not simply aesthetically pleasing. Many different research studies have shown that living around trees is good for people’s health. Alameda’s trees are making Alameda not only prettier, but also more livable.

The Kaiser Permanente website has a section called “Thrive Together,” which features articles on how to live a healthier lifestyle. One of the currently featured articles is entitled, “Forest Bathing.” The practice of forest bathing, which originated in Japan, is simply spending time in nature while practicing mindfulness. The article states, “One study by the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending time in an urban park can have a positive impact on a person’s sense of well-being. The practice of forest bathing has been found to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful hormones,” [https://thrive.kaiserpermanente.org/thrive-together/live-well/forest-bat....

Lowering stress and blood pressure is not the only health benefit of being around trees. Research has also found that urban forests can reduce air pollution. In studies collected in an article published by the journal of the New Phytology Foundation [https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ppp3.39], a nonprofit foundation devoted to the promotion of plant science, urban trees were estimated to remove 711,000 metric tons of air pollution each year from the contiguous 48 states of the United States. Air pollution is linked to many health problems, from bronchitis to heart attacks, so lowering air pollution is a priority.

The New Phytology article went on to state that studies have linked increased mortality with living in urban areas with few trees. “Having more trees, especially the right mature species planted in the right locations, can reduce particulate matter and other forms of air pollution, which could reduce mortality and morbidity in our urban centers,” the article states.

Climate change is projected to cause many health issues. Trees fight climate change by sequestering carbon. Planting and nurturing trees is one thing individuals and small groups can do to make an immediate impact in stopping climate change [https://www.arborday.org/urban-forestry-economic]. One way to improve mood and stop feelings of depression is engaging in an activity that will improve matters. Planting and caring for trees may promote mental and physical health.

Trees can also improve local climate conditions. Desert regions are noted for their rapid weather changes. Temperatures may go from close to freezing during the night to eighty-plus degrees at noon. Since the presence of vegetation, especially trees, moderates this effect, treeless urban areas can have the same up and down temperatures and dry air as a desert. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has posted concerns about “heat islands,” urban areas with little vegetation where the temperature may be as much as seven degrees higher than surrounding areas [https://www.epa.gov/heatislands/learn-about-heat-islands].

The EPA recommends increasing the number of urban trees and other vegetation as an effective strategy to cool urban areas. Large trees ameliorate rapid temperature changes and dry atmosphere by providing shade and increasing the amount of moisture in the air. Another problem with urban areas is tall buildings that channel breezes down city streets, turning them into wind tunnels. Trees can act as a wind break.

There are many resources in Alameda and the surrounding area to learn about trees and tree care. One of the oldest organizations advocating for trees is the Arbor Day Foundation, a nationwide advocacy group [www.arborday.org]. The City of Alameda is strongly in favor of street trees, and has a list of preferred species on its website [https://www.alamedaca.gov/Departments/Public-Works-Department/Street-Trees]. Finally, 100K Trees for Humanity [www.100ktrees4humanity.com] is a nonprofit group working to plant more trees in Alameda.

Alameda’s plant nurseries, Encinal Nursery [https://encinalnursery.com] and Ploughshares Nursery [https://apcollaborative.org/ploughshares-nursery/] sell trees, fertilizer and soil amendments, and can provide a lot of hands-on information on keeping trees healthy. As the Arbor Day Foundation says, “Every tree planted is a step in the right direction.”

Alameda Backyard Growers is dedicated to teaching our neighbors how to grow food. During this difficult time, our education program has moved online. Visit us at www.alamedabackyardgrowers.org to join our mailing list to receive our educational newsletters and information on classes and events, locate the Free Seed Library nearest you, or join Project Pick as a fruit picker or fruit donor. Contact ABG at info@alamedabackyardgrowers.org.