Deliver Benefits to the Public

The health and financial benefits of nearby nature

by Kathleen Wolf

The U.S. population has changed dramatically since the early years of the Forest Service. In 1910, 28% of Americans lived in cities. By 2010, 82% lived in urban areas, and the percentage is growing. Responding to the changing times, the Forest Service strategic plan has identified several urban-oriented objectives: Provide abundant clean water, strengthen communities, and connect people to the outdoors. The focus of urban ecosystems research the Pacific Northwest Research Station is on the integration of human behavior and natural features in the study of urban ecological and social sustainability. There is ample evidence that trees, vegetation, and open space play a significant role in ecological sustainability. But urban trees and green spaces also influence livability, health, and the social and economic well-being of people living in cities.

The following text is repurposed from the publication: Nature’s Riches: The Health and Financial Benefits of Nearby Nature, authored by Kathleen Wolf, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Wolf, K. L. 2016. Nature's Riches: The Health and Financial Benefits of Nearby Nature The Nature Conservancy and University of Washington: Seattle, WA.

People can make choices to improve personal health, such as going to the gym or eating organic food, but what about just sitting under a tree?

Nearly 40 years of scientific research demonstrates that the experience of nature in cities contributes to our health and wellness. Having nearby nature in the vicinity of one’s everyday life – whether during your commute, taking a walk through the neighborhood, or at your child’s school – is now recognized to have important, yet often overlooked, positive effects on health. You don’t have to travel out beyond the city to gain nature-based benefits; nearby parks, trees, and gardens can improve everyone’s quality of life and wellness.

Experiences of metro nature – meaning the entire sweep of native, cultural and built nature in cities – contribute to healthier birth weight in babies, reduced ADHD symptoms in children, stress and anxiety reduction for adults, reduced neighborhood crime, faster healing in hospitals, and improved mental health for seniors. Do you see the pattern? Having access to small bits of nature is important across the entire life cycle, from cradle to grave.

Public health officials are increasingly interested in preventive and community-based health strategies. Chronic health issues at an early age can set up a person for other diseases or conditions later in life. Older people are more susceptible to secondary illnesses once they experience injury or disease. Nature doesn’t cure all ills, but having nature nearby supports opportunities for better mental and physical health, respite from busy lifestyles, and places that add meaning to life.

Nearby nature includes a variety of spaces and places:

For more information please visit the Green Cities: Good Health web site. 


Kathleen Wolf Ph.D., is a Research Social Scientist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station