Living near trees, green spaces reduces stress, study shows

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 23, 2014.

Visitors sit near Lake Merced in San Francisco. The city tied for third in the 2013 ParkScore Index. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
Visitors sit near Lake Merced in San Francisco. The city tied for third in the 2013 ParkScore Index. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle

If you’re in need of a little stress relief, it might be waiting just outside your front door – especially in the Bay Area.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin in Madison reveals that people who live near trees and green spaces report lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those in more concrete- and asphalt-lined neighborhoods.

Researchers collected health survey data from 2,500 Wisconsin residents, then paired the data with satellite images showing how much vegetation was in residents’ neighborhoods. The results: People who lived on blocks with less than 10 percent tree canopy were more likely to report feeling stressed or down.

The findings were true regardless of race, age, income level, marital status or education. “A poor person living on a logging road in (a national forest) was more likely to be happy than a wealthier person living on a treeless block in Milwaukee,” the researchers said in a statement.

The study is good news for Bay Area residents. San Francisco tied for third in the 2013 ParkScore Index, which rates the park systems of the 50 most populated U.S. cities. San Jose ranked 11th and Oakland was 18th.

The Trust for Public Land, a conservation nonprofit, creates the annual index by scoring cities on several open-space factors: accessibility, or the percentage of residents living within a 10-minute walk of a park; park size, which includes the median park size and the percentage of total city area dedicated to parks; the number of playgrounds per 10,000 city residents; and per capita park spending.

San Francisco earned the No. 1 spot in 2012, but Minneapolis and New York City came out on top in the latest scoring.