It’s Healthy to Hang Out with Trees
Prince George, B.C. – The forests have always been of great value in British Columbia, both economically and environmentally. But one area which has received little in the way of public profile is the impact that forests have on our health.
That topic is the focus of a panel discussion on Wednesday, Oct. 12th. The event, entitled “Healthy Forests, Healthy Lives: Exploring the Link between our Environment and Health”, takes place Wednesday evening in Room 7-212 at UNBC, the lecture hall located next to the Canfor Wintergarden.
UNBC Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management Associate Professor Dr. Pamela Wright will join Northern Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Sandra Allison and UBC Forestry Professors Dr. Cecil Konijnendijk and Dr. Matilda van den Bosch in the discussion.
Dr. Wright says “healthy forests, healthy environments in general are really critical to all aspects of our lives and some of those we think about pretty obviously. “We know in the north here that healthy forests are a big part of our economy. Many folks make their living either in forestry or in nature-based tourism or outdoor recreation or other kinds of activities that are based on the actual forest resource itself. So that’s the obvious thing.”
“We also know that forests and a healthy environment provides us all sorts of great eco-system services. They help clean the air, help filter and clean water and function as flood control, all of those other incredible eco-system benefits they provide. But some of the neat things about healthy forest environment are all of the other benefits we get from being outside in nature.”
Dr. Wright notes “there’s really obvious things like if we spend time outside we might get physically better by improving our cardio-vascular system through exercise, for example. But, in fact, there’s lots of great medical research out there that says that humans derive a number of other significant benefits: psychological, community, social and spiritual benefits from forests, and other health benefits we wouldn’t think about.”
“So, spending time outside in a forest, hanging out with a tree, reduces anxiety and depression. It helps healing rates. They’ve done medical trials and people in hospitals even with a view out to nature, so a view of a tree out their hospital window, improves and shortens their healing time.”
“We know, and we say this casually, well we go outside and go for a walk to clear our head. Well there’s medical evidence that talks about the incredible benefits that nature environments give us. They allow us to relax our concentration away from those things that are essentially noisy, visually noisy or audibly noisy. You know, work environments for example or an urban environment. And nature gives us what we call “soft fascination” environment, and that’s incredibly restorative, like sleep is restorative.”
“So when I talk to university students about their own lives I talk to them about how, if they can spend even five minutes outside of their dorm room hanging out with a tree, it improves their concentration when they go back in, significantly. So there’s tons of these benefits that we get from healthy forests, and they’re often things we don’t think about.”
Dr. Wright says the first five minutes that we spend out in nature gives us the most benefits. She says “it’s just this radical change in environment that very quickly makes a significant improvement.” She also says “getting out in nature doesn’t mean a great wilderness expedition. It can be your back yard nature, it can be watching birds in your back yard bird feeder. It can be hanging out with those absolutely gorgeous trees, or going for a walk at Cottonwood Island or Forests for the World, for example, or even just a short stroll.”
“It doesn’t have to be for a long period of time. Obviously the more time you spend the better, but it’s that regular and consistent time to get away from the “built” environment, and that allows us to really refresh.”
She says it means we need “to keep our forests and our environment healthy in order to keep providing us those benefits.”
The panel discussion takes place from 6:30 pm to 9 pm Wednesday, Oct. 12th.