Trees and Green Space Lower Key Stress Hormone

By Jenny J. Roe, Catharine Ward Thompson, Peter A. Aspinall, Mark J. Brewer, Elizabeth I. Duff, David Miller, Richard Mitchell, and Angela Clow

Edinburgh, UK (September 2, 2013) — Confirmation of the health benefits of trees, parks, and greenery continues to accumulate. According to a new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, providing more green space in disadvantaged neighborhoods can offer a buffer to chronic burnout, especially for women, the study’s most stressed subset population.

Trees on Philly StreetThe study, “Green Space and Stress: Evidence from Cortisol Measures in Deprived Urban Communities,” looked at 106 unemployed men and women, age 35 to 55, in Dundee, Scotland. Some of them lived in “low green-space” neighborhoods, where there were not even street trees, and some in “high green-space,” where front gardens, street trees, open space views populated the area. Researchers then measured participants’ levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, throughout the day.

The study found that men and women living a nature-free life had flatter coritsol slopes, and therefore worse stress regulation. And there was a marked difference between the men and the women, who showed chronic stress and burnout, or what the researchers call “hypocortisolemia.”

Results from linear regression analyses showed a significant and negative relationship between higher green space levels and stress levels, indicating living in areas with a higher percentage of green space is associated with lower stress. While the sample was small, the research suggests that green space can provide relief for the most disadvantaged and rundown city dwellers, especially from the everyday stresses of life.

This study extends an earlier exploratory study showing that more green space in deprived urban neighborhoods in Scotland is linked to lower levels of perceived stress and improved physiological stress as measured by diurnal patterns of cortisol secretion. This study further extends the findings by showing significant gender differences in stress patterns by levels of green space, with women in lower green space areas showing higher levels of stress.

Researchers conclude that higher levels of green space in residential neighborhoods, for this deprived urban population of middle-aged men and women not in work, are linked with lower perceived stress and a steeper (healthier) diurnal cortisol decline. However, overall patterns and levels of cortisol secretion in men and women were differentially related to neighborhood green space and warrant further investigation.

Sources:
Green Space and Stress: Evidence from Cortisol Measures in Deprived Urban Communities,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
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