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It seems that getting up really close to a tree can be really good for your health:
How tree hugging can give you a natural high
Getting touchy feely with trees like this can offer wellbeing benefits (Photo: Canopy and Stars)
Lizzie Pook July 26th 2016
Environmentalists have long been derided as ‘tree huggers’ but Lizzie Pook found that embracing the pillars of our natural world offers real therapeutic benefits
The sun is shining in the park, and picnicking families are scattered about the grass, but they’ve been giving me some odd looks. I’ve been busy hugging trees – not in the metaphorical “conservation warrior” sense, but in a very literal way, throwing my arms around the trunk of a willow or yew.
All the people who have been watching me here must think I’m barmy, but I have my reasons. Recently published research found that only 3 per cent of us believe we spend enough time with nature, despite the fact that over 90 per cent say that it makes us feel happier.
The report, by Dr Miles Richardson, a nature connection psychologist, surveyed 2,000 people, and reveals that more than one third of city dwellers spend four times longer looking at a screen than they do spending time outside. And apparently one way to get over this, and to feel the health benefits, is to hug a tree.
“When we’re in the presence of trees, our heart rate changes, calming and rebalancing the systems that regulate our emotions,” says Richardson. He believes we should be quite literally embracing nature, because trees have what he calls a “soft fascination”, which “gently occupies our senses, providing a soothing influence”.
We could simply look at the trees, but making a physical connection has a deeper effect, according to the report, commissioned by the glamping company Canopy & Stars. “Hug a tree, touch the bark, smell the pine trees and listen to the wind through the leaves,” it advises. “Wrap your limbs around one of our arboreal friends and feel at one with nature and the world.”
Need a tree to hug? Here’s out guide to the best ones in five of the UK’s biggest cities
Spurred on by this promise, I’ve decided to go gonzo and try some tree-hugging for myself. As a thirtysomething living and working in London, I certainly tick the boxes marked “harried” and “time-poor”. I could do with some soothing.
Heading to Kensington Gardens, I find out soon enough that hugging trees is indeed rather lovely. At my first tree, a fat, squat beech with a dappled trunk, I struggle to fully relax into the hug because of the many spiders’ webs that cling to my face and tickle my ear canal as I rest my head against the bark. That said, there’s certainly something quite grounding about having your arms wrapped around something as solid and immovable as a big fat tree. It’s all rather pleasant, bucolic and calm.
The next tree, a horse chestnut, is slim enough for me to reach my arms around it completely. I stay there for a minute or so, linking my fingers, letting my heart rate slow, focusing on my breathing and letting the earthy scent waft around my nostrils. But then a wiry terrier creature starts sniffing speculatively around the bag I’ve left on the ground beside me, and my calm is shattered. It seems that even if a tree does stay quiet and still, the same can’t be said for the life going on around it.
But, animals aside, I do feel generally calmer in the presence of these trees – even if I do find myself having to delicately extract an inch-long splinter from the side of my thumb – and that should be no surprise. It’s long been known that putting ourselves among rural surroundings can be beneficial for our health; studies by environment scientists at Stanford University in the US even suggest that walking among natural surroundings actually changes the workings of our brain in ways that improve our mental health.
But what is it about getting so close to trees that does us good? “You can get benefits from nature by being exposed in a passive way – walking through the park on your way to work, for example,” says Richardson. “But this new field of research, ‘connection with nature’, concerns how we feel when we are reminded that we are actually a part of the natural world.
“Touching trees reinforces the idea that we are at one with nature. That connection, in turn, has been linked to things like greater life expectancy, a higher sense of ‘meaningfulness’, lower cognitive anxiety and better body image.”
When it comes to the great outdoors, most of us will have felt the benefits of a brisk hike through the hills or the heady joy of dipping our toes in a fast-flowing river, but what is it about trees in particular that really moves us?
“Trees are very much linked to our emotions,” says Richardson. “They are very affective. It’s easy to feel a sense of awe when you look at a grand, beautiful tree. They provide smells, sights and touch and change over the year – coming into leaf, transforming into spectacular autumn colours and then disappearing. That cycle of life can be very meaningful for us.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Richardson’s research has even found that a strong connection with nature is as important to our well-being as education or income. He has also found evidence to suggest that hospital patients with a view of trees have recovered more quickly and required fewer painkillers than those with no trees in eyesight (conversely, a loss of trees has been linked to health conditions such as heart disease.)
While my brush with nature was not life-changing per se, even just spending five minutes in tactile contact with trees did make me feel, albeit temporarily, more calm and more settled. So how about the next time you swan by a nice elm on your way to work, you give it a tacit nod or even a quick stroke? It could do you the world of good.
How tree hugging can give you a natural high - The i newspaper online iNews
Hugging trees might also have another point or two:
The Fascinating History of 'Tree Huggers' | Alternet
How India's 'tree hugger' is tackling forest fires - BBC News
This is the latest from the TreeHugger website:
Trees talk to each other and recognize their offspring : TreeHugger