In these unprecedented times, it can be especially hard to peel away from the 24-hour news cycle to focus on your health and well-being. But, right now it is more important than ever to practice a bit of self-care to reduce your stress or anxiety and to stay healthy. The current Stay-at-Home Order does not exclude us from enjoying the outdoors, and the Violet Crown Trail is open and available for your enjoyment. Of course, social distancing is incredibly important right now. If you use the trail, we implore that you abide by the social distancing standards set in place by the Stay-at-Home Order. To stay close to home, we encourage you to seek a bit of nature therapy in your back yard, on your porch or balcony, in your neighborhood, or perhaps via our social media channels.
There is a trove of scientific evidence indicating exposure to nature makes you feel better emotionally and contributes to your physical well-being. It reduces your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. Interestingly, this applies even if we aren’t able to venture too far out of our homes. The mere presence of the abundant wooded areas found here in Austin and the surrounding Hill Country impart similar benefits. For example, studies show that patients recovering in a room with a view of nature recover faster, and need significantly less pain medication than patients with no view. For those of us stuck at home, that means even just looking at a tree outside your window will reduce the amount of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body, immediately lowering your blood pressure and increasing your happiness levels.
Furthermore, trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Thus, areas with more greenspace have the benefit of better air quality. A 2015 study illustrated that as air pollution decreased, children’s lung function improved; resulting in fewer hospitalizations for respiratory issues and asthma. Similar effects are seen in adults. This is good news for us living in Austin and throughout the Hill Country! A 2014 analysis of our urban forest revealed that Austin has an estimated 33.8 million trees covering more than 30 percent of the city. This rich canopy removes an estimated 92,000 tons of carbon from the air per year giving Austin, and all residents of the Hill Country, cleaner air and healthier lungs.
In addition to improved respiratory function, trees and plants also provide us with a boost of viral immunity. When we breathe fresh air, we inhale substances known as phytoncides, that some trees and plants, like oak and cedar, emit to protect themselves from insects and disease. When people breathe in these phytoncides, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell referred to as natural killer cells or NK. These NK cells kill tumors and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study of forest bathing, increased NK activity from a 3-day, 2-night forest bathing trip lasted for more than 7 days. In wooded areas, air doesn’t just feel fresher and better—it actually improves your health.
These are unprecedented times. But your dedication and investment in conservation is providing untold benefits for a community in need. The magic of nature lies not in only in its beauty, but also in its numerous transformative properties. So, if you begin to feel stressed, take a moment to be in or gaze upon nature. Every moment spent with nature is a healing moment. And take comfort knowing that your commitment to Hill Country Conservancy has helped to provide this little bit of healing for your entire community. For that, we offer you our deepest gratitude.