Saturday 21 September 2019

Crime fighting... asthma... obesity: Six health benefits of trees

Living near trees helps you breathe better
Living near trees helps you breathe better

To kick off National Tree Week, Cormac Downey, arboriculturist and tree officer with the Office of Public Works, explains how trees are good for body and soul.

1 Escape from the concrete jungle...

More than half of the world's population live in urban areas and by 2050 this is projected to be 68pc. This is moving us further away from the natural environment and increasing the pressure on local authorities to provide trees and green space for urban populations in areas where space is at a premium. People in built up areas are now relying more and more on public amenities.

2 Biophilia hypothesis...

This innate desire to be close to, or have contact with nature is actually known as the biophilia hypothesis.

A lot of worldwide research has been carried out on the many benefits of trees but probably the most current/topical of these benefits is environmental.

According to the World Health Organisation "air pollution now kills around seven million people, globally, every year".

Trees capture air pollutants and fine dust particles and helps to clean our atmosphere. This becomes even more significant when you consider that 1,330 premature deaths in Ireland in 2015 were attributed to air pollution.

3 Planting for the planet...

Our weather patterns have changed, will last year's unusually warm summer become the norm? A study in the UK has shown that "increasing tree cover in urban areas by 10pc can reduce urban surface temperatures by as much as 4°C". For us in this country that may be the difference between a comfortable and an uncomfortable day, in other countries it can be the difference between life and death.

The Tree Council of Ireland has been promoting this principle since it was founded in 1985. In fact, this year's theme for Tree Week is 'Planting for our Planet', a nod to how trees can benefit us all worldwide.

4 Active living tackles obesity...

One in four children and six in 10 adults in Ireland today are obese.

It has been calculated that the direct and indirect annual cost of obesity in Ireland is estimated at around €1.13bn. Active living is one solution to reverse this trend. Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and East Anglia found that "people living closer to green spaces were more physically active, and were less likely to be overweight or obese, and people who lived furthest from public parks were 27pc more likely to be overweight or obese".

5 Combat asthma...

Over the last two decades there has been a huge increase in the number of people suffering from asthma. One in eight people in Ireland now suffers from asthma - that's nearly half a million people.

This places us the fourth highest in the world and the cost to the state every year is calculated at €500m. Research has found that "asthma rates among children aged four and five fell by a quarter for every additional 343 trees per square kilometre".

6 Crime fighting...

Studies in the US have found neighbourhoods with trees have less crime than those that lack trees.

Researchers speculate that this is a result of green spaces that help to calm and encourage people to spend more time outdoors with their neighbours and local community thereby creating a greater sense of trust.

The OPW is celebrating National Tree Week, see treecouncil.ie/initiatives/tree-week/programme-events

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