Who doesn’t like a stroll through the park after a long day or on a weekend morning just after breakfast? It seems that humans have been attracted to greenery since the beginning of time. But trees in your neighborhood aren’t just pretty to look at. They’re also a critical part of your mental and physical health.

A longitudinal study of certain nurses found that those who lived in areas with more greenery lived longer than those who did not. The differences are thought to be related to improved mental health, social engagement, physical activity, and air quality, all of which are byproducts of living closer to green spaces. Researchers were most surprised that the mental health impacts of living near trees could have such a large impact on physical health in the long run.

Another impact of living among greenery is that it helps to avoid the “heat island” effect that comes from too many man-made structures and not enough plants. Trees help reflect sunlight, or evaporate water with the energy, which causes cooling. Dark buildings, on the other hand, absorb heat, which increases energy costs and related greenhouse gas emissions.

Do you have enough trees around? Take a look outside and think about how long it takes you on a daily basis to access greenery. You might want to consider finding or starting an organization that plants trees in residential areas. Take the San Francisco-based group Friends of the Urban Forest for example. The organization makes it easier for local citizens to identify places where trees could be put in, and even pays for some of the cost.

We might not all have access to such an organization, but we can be better-informed about our immediate environment and the impacts it may have on us. And maybe one day we’ll all live in the midst of a sufficient amount of trees.

Image: Flickr