Once again, landscapes save the day.

A few recent studies highlight just how landscapes enhance communities and improve homeowners’ health, as well as students’ academic performance.

Trees, please

In a recent issue of the journal Nature, research shows trees can enhance health conditions for a neighborhood’s residents.

The study, using high-resolution satellite imagery and individual tree data, was conducted in Toronto, Canada, and suggests that people who live in neighborhoods with a higher density of trees on their streets report significantly higher health perceptions and significantly less cardio-metabolic conditions.

Results of the study revealed that having 10 additional trees in a city block, on average, can improve health perception in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger. Having 11 more trees on a city block, on average, decreases cardio-metabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger.

Doctor’s orders: get outside

Washington, D.C., pediatricians are prescribing a simpler medicine for some of their patients: parks.

In fact, many doctors have started to recognize the positive impact nature has on many health conditions, says Dr. Robert Zarr, founder and director of DC Park RX, a new community health initiative.

“Nature clearly shows an effect on your health in terms of prevention,” he says. “So you may not have a diagnosis yet, but if you’re headed that way, you can certainly turn that around by spending more time outside.”

DC Park RX has a searchable online database of parks—350 green spaces. The searchable database enables the doctor of an obese child who likes to play basketball, for instance, to find a nearby park with basketball courts for him to go to. Doctors can even print out the information with directions and provide it to the patient along with other medical chart information.

Children who have been prescribed time in parks are getting an additional 22 minutes per week of physical activity and are spending six more days per year at a park for at least 30 minutes, according to Zarr’s preliminary results. Zarr soon hopes to provide actual health changes as a result of park prescriptions, such as body mass index and blood pressure decreases.

Many studies have touted the idea that physical activity while in nature offers health benefits, even though DC Park RX is one of the first programs to give doctors a tool to actually prescribe parks. Parks are continually being recognized as critical to medically treating chronic disease and mental illness. In fact, Dr. Daphne Miller, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, said green spaces are crucial to solving hypertension, anxiety, depression and diabetes—what she calls “the diseases of indoor living.”

Zarr plans to expand the program across the city.

Green spaces earn A+

A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences showed a link between green spaces and better academic performance in school, Project EverGreen reports.

The study, conducted by researchers in Barcelona, Spain, followed 2,500 students attending 36 primary schools in the area for a year. They periodically gave the students, ages 7 to 10, computerized tests measuring attention and working memory (the ability to keep different pieces of information in mind to perform a task).

Results showed students attending elementary schools surrounded by lots of grass and trees performed better on some mental tasks and did better on tests over the course of a year than kids at schools with fewer green spaces. The study mentioned trees and green spaces also helped reduce air pollution levels.

Explaining the value of landscapes to your clients

Project EverGreen recently released a “Value of Green Space” infographic (below) to help landscape professionals show clients how well-maintained green spaces enhance their neighborhoods.

Some of the interesting facts and figures on the “Value of Green Space” infographic include:

  • 2,500 square feet of turf releases enough oxygen for a family of four to breathe. One tree can remove 26 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere annually.
  • Gardening and yard work contribute to healthy, active living—both physically and emotionally.
  • Smart Money magazine says that consumers value a landscaped home 11 percent higher than its base price.
  • Trees shading homes can reduce attic temperatures as much as 40 degrees.
  • Lawns will be 30 degrees cooler than asphalt and 14 degrees cooler than bare soil in the heat of summer.
  • A healthy, sodded lawn absorbs rainfall six times more effectively than a wheat field and four times better than a hay field.
  • Proper landscaping reduces runoff from the soil into the water supply.
  • Leaving grass clippings during mowing provide nutrients to help feed your lawn.
  • Turfgrass, and a well-designed landscape, can increase a home’s property value by up to 20 percent.
  • A University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study showed that people saw a reduction in heart rate when they walked by a lot that underwent “greening”—cleaning, debris removal, planting grass and trees and installing a low wooden post- and rail-fence.
  • Studies have shown that physically active young people demonstrate higher academic performance at school.

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