Trees may hold the secret to a happier life

I’ve written a lot about the benefits of spending time in Nature lately. And a new study out of the U.K. perfectly illustrates my point. For this study, researchers found that people who live around trees take fewer antidepressants.

Researchers conducted this study between 2009 and 2010 in London, which is one of the world’s original sprawling urban areas. In Roman times, London started out surrounded by dense, primeval forests. But over the next two millennia, the cityscape steadily grew up, down, and out from the River Thames and took over the forests.

In modern times, the rates of prescription antidepressants in London have skyrocketed. In fact, up to 578 out of every 1,000 people in the city take antidepressants. That statistic is amazing (and depressing) in itself.

But–there is a bit a good news.

Today, along the streets of London, there are an average of about 40 trees per kilometer. But if you live on a street with more trees, you’re less likely to take one of these dangerous and largely ineffective drugs. In fact, for every additional tree per kilometer on the street, the researchers found about 1.5 fewer antidepressant prescriptions among the men and women who live there.

Even when the researchers adjusted for socioeconomic status, employment, age, and smoking this correlation held strong. The researchers concluded that more trees on the streets may have a role to play in supporting mental health.

Sadly, mainstream mental health experts just don’t get the message about depression. They continue to prescribe harmful, ineffective drugs, when, as this study shows, just planting a few more trees could make a difference in your mood and general health. And not just in London.

Research from the USDA Forest Service shows that people who live around trees are physically healthier overall. In fact, the USDA estimates that living around trees leads to about 670,000 fewer incidents of acute respiratory symptoms per year, with 870 fewer deaths. That saves us about $7 billion in total health care costs per year. The USDA attributes this finding to the fact that trees remove pollutants from the air. Of course, trees and plants also pump oxygen into the air through photosynthesis.

Previous research also shows that people live longer where there are more trees. Researchers learned of this fact by studying areas where emerald ash-borer insects killed all the trees. People in these areas had higher death rates than people who lived in areas not affected by the tree-killing insects.

In another study, researchers linked higher tree coverage with lower crime statistics. It seems we don’t need to worry about criminals “jumping out of the bushes.” Indeed–where there are more bushes, there is less crime! So, instead of more para-military cops on the streets, maybe we simply need to plant more trees.

Without a doubt, living near trees benefits your mental and physical health as well as your mood and energy. It may even play a role in your career success…

Looking at Google Earth, another researcher found that wealthier neighborhoods have more trees. (No surprise there.) For every 1 percent increase in average income, the tree cover increased by 1.8 percent.

Literally piles and piles of research papers (all made from trees!) show that people who live around trees are wealthier, healthier, happier, more secure, and live longer.

In the U.K., everyone has government-guaranteed “equal access” to healthcare and drugs. And now–the ever bigger U.S. federal government is forcing the new partisan political policy that requires everyone here to have “equal access” to the questionable benefits of modern, drug-dependent healthcare as well. But not everyone in the U.K. or U.S. has “equal access” to lush, green, and healthy environments. So, the poorer, sicker, and less happy people end up popping more pills instead.

Frank Sinatra and others used to sing about “foggy London-town.” They were talking about the weather. But now it seems things have gotten foggy for another reason. Too many mind-numbing drugs. Perhaps lack of trees has also affected the government health experts’ ability to think clearly.

But it seems pretty clear to me. Maybe we should take all that government-subsidized drug money and use it to plant more trees.