So far, we have considered how we owe our very existence- both in terms of biology (part 1) and culture and civilisation (part 2). We have then considered how we need our forests to provide us with the physical materials to live (parts 3 to 5).
In this instalment, we consider our current need for forests in terms of biology and well-being.
The leading cause of death in the UK is Heart disease, accounting for around 14% of all deaths. A complex lifestyle disease, death rates can be reduced by improved exercise, reduced stress and medicines.
According to UK statistics, the average person visits woodlands around 10 times per annum, typically (65%) to walk. This is ideal physical activity for reducing heart disease.
Going for a walk in woodland is an effective way of reducing your risk of heart disease.
It is important to develop healthy lifestyles when young and forests are often used to teach activities such as cycling.
Cycling is a particularly effective way of maintaining a healthy heart. It is important to introduce people to the sport young, and forests are often used for this due to the lack of vehicle traffic
“A major barrier to woodland recreation is accessibility. Planting more woodlands near to where people live, together with improved access routes could transform people’s health.”
Recent scientific research has shown that the proximity of trees brings specific health benefits, reducing stress, mental illness and even improving the creativity of children.
“safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs in treating some forms of mental illnesses.”
This is very important. For example, amongst males 5-49 years and females 20-34 years, suicide is the largest cause of death.
Hugging a tree could save your life!
The effect of a forest environment on other major killers is also profound. For example, diesel-particulates are now considered a major killer, contributing to deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer, which are the 4th and 5th largest killers in the UK. Indeed, the UK government estimates are now that diesel particulates cause 6% of all deaths in the UK.
Recent research has shown that planting a few trees in your front garden can reduce the concentration of deadly particulates by 60%, such as in a replicated trial involving pot-grown birch trees.
“Electron microscope images of the leaves of silver birch trees show why they are so good – they are covered in tiny hairs and ridges which help trap the pollution particles. Their sparse structure also helps keep the air circulating and flowing past the leaves to filter it effectively (rather than trapping pollution near the ground as bigger and denser trees do). Each time it rains, the PM pollution is washed off the leaves, allowing them to start trapping more.”
Trees are astonishingly effective at absorbing diesel particulates due to structures on the surface of the leaves.
If you want to avoid medical treatment, it seems that the answer is to go for a walk in a forest.
But, what if you do need medical treatment????
Well, if you are suffering from or at risk of cardio-vascular disease, the UK’s largest killer then you are likely to be prescribed aspirin, plant stanols or perhaps a specialist drug such as digitalis- all of which are from forest plants.
If you are suffering from breast cancer, which is the largest killer of females in the 35-49 year group, then Taxol, made from the Pacific yew is the drug of choice.
Essential medicines such as aspirin (willow bark), plant stanols (pine), digitalis (foxglove) and taxol (Pacific yew) are made from forest plants. It takes 2.5 tonnes of pine to make 1kg of stanols.
So however you look at it, forests are probably going to save your life.
The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.
Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.
Further information is available from:
Jason Sinden Linkedin profile
Institute of Chartered Foresters Website
Tilhill Forestry Website