Finding Peace, Health, and Wellness in the Outdoors: Trees Work for Your Health

By Holly Dentner, natural resources communication specialist, Missouri Dept. of Conservation

St. Louis Public Radio aired a story in late November 2020 about how the COVID pandemic has pushed people outdoors in record numbers. The story featured a quote from the executive director of Tower Grove Park, who noted that weekday foot traffic in the park often rivaled typical weekend attendance.

“People have come to realize that green spaces are a necessity and not an amenity,” he said. Ask any community forester – they will tell you they’ve been trying to help communities understand this for years.

As many of us know and even more have discovered, easy access to outdoor places is truly essential. Spending time around trees, in nature, provides a host of benefits to our health and wellness. So as Missourians across the state head outside, they might consider a few ways trees are working for them:

  •  Feeling tired? Spending just 20 minutes outside can give your brain an energy boost comparable to a cup of coffee.
  •  Spending time in nature, conservation areas, woods, backyards, and urban parks has been shown to ease stress levels.
  •  Getting away from busy schedules allows people to connect with nature and themselves in a way that brings calm and a sense of well-being.
  •  Taking a nature walk can increase your child’s attention span and creative problem-solving skills by as much as 50 percent.
  •  Exposure to nature contributes to physical well-being by reducing your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

Fortunately, reaping the benefits of being in nature doesn’t mean you have to mount day-long hikes through the deep woods or off-road cycling along challenging trails. Studies show that health and wellness benefits can be achieved just by spending time outdoors.

Grab a hammock and a good book or take the dog for a walk. Tree canopy and green space along pedestrian walkways, neighborhoods, and community parks provide the same healthy benefits, plus they reduce ambient temperatures in the summer, remove harmful pollutants from our air, and enrich our lives.

If you haven’t done so lately, get outside to get healthy in nature this year. And if you need suggestions on where to go, visit mdc.mo.gov/places-go or download the free MO Outdoors app for places near you.