February is American Heart Month. Get heart healthy the easy way, head outside! Exposure to trees relaxes and restores your mind, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate. This helps to reduce incidences of cardiovascular and lower respiratory diseases. Conversely, tree loss from the spread of the emerald ash borer, and other insects and diseases, is associated with increased mortality related to cardiovascular and lower respiratory diseases.
One recent study has been digging into the relationship between trees and human health. This longitudinal study examined whether the spread of the emerald ash borer (EAB) is associated with increased mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness (the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. respectively). Data was collected from 1990 to 2007 across 15 states. It looked at mortality rates before and after EAB infestation by analyzing mortality rates, canopy percentages and forest inventory data, while controlling for a wide range of demographic variables. The research concluded tree loss from the spread of emerald ash borer is associated with increased mortality related to the cardiovascular and lower-respiratory systems. These results are consistent with previous research showing correlations between nature and health. The results don’t show how trees could lower mortality rates related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory illness. However, the authors mention – and other research has proven – several plausible mechanisms by which increased tree canopy can lower those rates. Trees improve air quality, moderate temperature, reduce stress and increase physical activity.
This effect on health also has economic impacts. Having quality, well-managed green spaces near where people live and work could return an annual savings of $1.2–$2.3 billion related to healthcare for cardiovascular disease and $1.3–$2.6 billion for hypertension. Coupled with other nature-provided health benefits, this is an overall savings of $11.7 billion per year in avoided health care costs! It is critical and economically savvy to have high quality, nearby nature in our communities that is available to everyone.
For more information and links to published research, visit human health in the Vibrant Cities Lab, The Relationship Between Tres and Human Health: Evidence from the Spread of Emerald Ash Borer and Nature’s Riches: The Health and Financial Benefits of Nearby Nature. Use this interactive map to find Wisconsin Parks and Trails near you.
Article written by: Olivia Witthun, WI DNR Urban Forestry Coordinator, 414-750-8744, Olivia.Witthun@wisconsin.gov