Spending time in nature has been known to positively impact mental health for some time now, but even greenery planted along a sidewalk line can be beneficial.

By Kelly Vaughan
January 27, 2021
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Mental health experts have long touted the health benefits of spending time in nature. A team of German researchers studied the long term correlation between living in an urban area where there are fewer green spaces and levels of depression. To understand the impact of being near a green space—specifically, trees planted along neighborhood sidewalks—they analyzed data from 10,000 residents of Leipzig, the most populated city in Saxony, Germany. Researchers assessed the number and type of street trees, how close they were planted to homes, and the number of antidepressants prescribed to residents.

Credit: Getty / Yellow Dog Productions

In addition to their proximity to green spaces, researchers also took into account the age, employment status, gender, and body weight of each of the participants. They found that trees located within 100 meters of the home were associated with a reduced risk of being prescribed antidepressant medication, particularly in poor or marginalized neighborhoods. As these populations are usually at a greater risk for being prescribed antidepressants in Germany, the findings prove just how beneficial green spaces in urban areas can be for improving mental health.

"Our finding suggests that street trees—a small scale, publicly accessible form of urban greenspace—can help close the gap in health inequalities between economically different social groups," says Dr. Melissa Marselle, lead author of the study. "This is good news because street trees are relatively easy to achieve and their number can be increased without much planning effort.

In addition to the mental health benefits for humans, planting more trees is also good for the environment. "[Adding] street trees in residential urban areas is a nature-based solution that may not only promote mental health, but can also contribute to climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation," says senior author Professor Aletta Bonn, who leads the department of ecosystem services at UFZ, iDiv and Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.

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