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Feel better after being outside? There’s a scientific reason for that.

Throwing shade at mental health. But, you know, the nice kind of shade.

Feel better after being outside? There’s a scientific reason for that.
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As long as humans have been reading and writing, thinkers and researchers have been studying trees and their immense impact on our world.

We know they're powerful carbon sinks, sucking up carbon emissions and helping purify our air and limiting runaway climate change. We know their extensive root systems act like giant sponges, helping to sop up rainwater during storms and prevent erosion. At all stages of their life cycle, they provide habitats for other living things — from moss to lichen to insects to birds to delightful Disney-esque woodland creatures.

Nature is adorable! GIF from "Bambi."


With all of the things trees do for the world, it's easy to wonder: What other ways do trees influence our lives? When people say they feel better after a long walk in the woods, is there a psychological, or even physiological, reason for that? According to scientists: yes. There really is.

The physical health benefits of trees are hard to deny.

A 2014 study in Environmental Pollution tried to quantify the health benefits of trees in America. Looking at data from 2010, they determined that each mature tree removes 17 metric tons of air pollution, and collectively, trees prevented 670,000 cases of respiratory problems like asthma and 850 human deaths. A 2015 study of residents in a Toronto neighborhood found that people who reported better health lived on streets with more than 10 trees. Researchers were able to equate those improved health perceptions with an income increase of $10,000 or a relative age of seven years younger.

Image via iStock.

Being around trees isn't necessarily the only way to reap their benefits  — sometimes just having the ability to look at them can help.

A famous study of surgical patients recovering in a Pennsylvania hospital in the 1970s found that persons whose rooms overlooked trees recovered faster than those who didn't have that view. Japanese healers advocate for the health benefits of shinrin-yoku, ("forest bathing"), where people take long walks in the woods while inhaling complementary aromatherapy scents. A peer-reviewed study of shinrin-yoku found that it helped people lower levels of stress hormones and decrease their blood pressure, with benefits lasting up to one month.

Image via iStock.

Whatever it is that's going on in our brains at the time, it really seems that just being in the presence of trees can leave us happier and more content.

Maybe they remind us that life grows and goes on and flourishes in the toughest places. Maybe there’s something about leaves, about vibrant colors, about the smell of strong wood, or the way sunshine looks dappled through summer leaves. Psychologists believe there's truth to that idea. They call spending time in nature attention restoration theory, or ART. The theory behind it is that natural environments demand so much less of our attention than cities do and that being in nature allows our brains time to rest.

Image via iStock.

Whatever it is about trees that improves our mental health, it’s powerful and potentially transformative. Even city planners are taking notice.

In the past decade, major cities, including Barcelona, New York, and Vancouver, have made increasing green spaces and their urban canopy a big priority. For Vancouver, this includes planting lots of new trees, legislating protections for older trees, protecting parklands, and encouraging residents to spend time outside.

Chances are, though, that you're not reading this while you're outside. Maybe you can't even get outside right now. In that case, maybe a few minutes spent looking at photographs of particularly lovely trees can give us some of the same calm, fuzzy feelings? Let's try!

Worried about your taxes? This beautiful tree has been around for 250 years — longer than every American dollar in circulation.

This gnarly pinyon pine is estimated to be between 80 and250 years old. Image via Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr.

Feeling alone? Let this beautiful moss-covered oak remind you that living things can thrive together — and then call a friend to tell them you care.

Image via iStock.

Ex got you stressed? This tree has withstood winter storms for decades. Its boughs have adapted to weather them, just as you can and you will.

Image via Anatakti/Flickr.

Hal Borland famously said, "If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees."

He's right, of course. Though we'd also add in "peace of mind" too.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via The Walt Disney Company / Flickr

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Of course, there's a healthy way to approach such a potentially dangerous topic.

Telling your partner you find someone else attractive shouldn't be about making them feel jealous. It's probably also best that if you're attracted to a coworker, friend, or their sibling, that you keep it to yourself.

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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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