A Dose of Nature for Mental Health

We intuitively know that taking a walk in the woods or spending a few minutes by a river produces feelings of calm and wellbeing, but now there’s scientific evidence to back that up. Exposure to nature has been shown to significantly decrease stress and boost wellbeing. 

Chronic stress has been associated with an increase in the risk of conditions such as obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, and asthma. The good news is, research shows that time in nature —or even just a view of trees —can significantly relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and support wellbeing.

A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, for example, found that participants who walked in a forest had lower blood pressure and levels of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) afterwards than those who walked through a city environment. Luckily, you don’t need to hike in the wilderness to get these stress-busting benefits. Any green space, even a tree-filled neighborhood park, provides good medicine.

Merely having a view of nature from one’s home or office has been linked to improved wellbeing and enhanced focus. High school students in classrooms with views of trees have been shown to learn better and perform higher on tests. In the workplace, employees with a view of nature have been found to be happier, more productive, and take less sick days.

Washington County residents don’t have to look too far to find a vibrant natural area or tree-filled view. Tree for All’s landscape-scale restoration efforts have resulted in an abundance of opportunities throughout the Tualatin River Watershed to connect with nature – and that’s something we can all feel good about. 


Caption Sources

Wolf, K.L., S. Krueger, and M.A. Rozance. 2014. Stress, Wellness & Physiology - A Literature Review. In: Green Cities: Good Health (www.greenhealth.washington.edu). College of the Environment, University of Washington.

Tsunetsugu, Y., B.J. Park, and Y. Miyazaki. 2010. Trends in Research Related to “Shinrin-Yoku” (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing) in Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine 15, 1:27-37.

Nedovic, S., Morrissey, A., (2013). Calm, active and focused: Children’s responses to an organic outdoor learning environment. Learning Environments Research, 16(2), 281-295.



Partners Band Together to Offer Watershed Health Walks

Clean Water Services, the Audubon Society of Portland and Bienestar Community Development Corporation are Tree for All partners with a history of working together to foster understanding of watershed health through the Bienestar Explorador Summer Camps Program. Over the last decade, the Summer Camps program has provided an opportunity for children and their families to build meaningful relationships with nature while learning about the workings of the natural environment.

Spurred by the success of the Explorador program, the partners developed Paseos Verdes (“Green Walks”), a program that connects underserved community members to natural areas in Washington County through guided walks in the Tualatin River Watershed. Paseos Verdes is based on the simple idea that connecting the community with nature is good for the watershed and good for human health and wellness. The walks engage families to learn about watershed health, water management and wildlife. These experiences promote environmental stewardship while providing the health benefits of connecting with nature and being active in the outdoors.

During the outings at Fernhill, just south of downtown Forest Grove, participants can often be heard exclaiming “I live nearby and I have never been here before!” while planning their next visit together. On one walk, children lined up excitedly to observe great blue herons and bullfrogs through a bird spotting scope while marveling that their bathwater could end up in such a beautiful place. On another occasion, a delighted grandmother spotted wild chamomile growing alongside the trail, and taught the group all about its uses in her native Mexico.

The first year of Paseos Verdes has been a great success, and the response from the Bienestar community has been overwhelmingly positive. Working closely with Bienestar promotoras (community connectors), program participation has exceeded our expectations and families have been eager to sign up again. By providing culturally competent and engaging opportunities for Washington County residents to connect with the Tualatin River Watershed, Paseos Verdes is improving community health while fostering the river stewards of tomorrow. We are looking forward to expanding Paseos Verdes in 2018 and bringing on new partners to broaden the program’s impact on Washington County residents and the Tualatin River Watershed.

Watch a short video of a Watershed Health Walk. 


Green Places are Healthier Spaces to Walk, Run and Play

Research shows that people who live near green areas are more likely to engage in regular exercise. Indeed, one of the major ways that nature benefits our health is by motivating and facilitating outdoor physical activity. Whether it’s walking a dog, riding a bike, practicing tai chi, or playing Frisbee golf — it’s more enjoyable, and more beneficial to our health, when we exercise outside.

As modern lifestyles have become increasingly sedentary, there has been a sharp rise in obesity and associated chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, stroke, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers. The good news is that many of these conditions are preventable. Physical activity combats and prevents many chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, lowers blood pressure, burns calories, boosts metabolism, and even promotes positive self-esteem. Outdoor exercise also provides significant mental health benefits that indoor exercise does not provide, such as reduced stress and attention restoration. 

So how do we encourage our communities to go outside and get moving? By bringing Mother Nature back into our neighborhoods. Our environment has a huge influence on our exercise behavior. In fact, research shows that environmental interventions, such as establishing bike paths and walkways, are more effective at influencing physical activity rates than interventions based on information or media campaigns. By bringing Mother Nature back into our communities, Tree for All is also making our neighborhoods healthier by providing greener places to walk, run, and play.  

Explore the health benefits of Tree for All.


Caption sources

Ellaway, A., S. Macintyre, and X. Bonnefoy. 2005. Graffiti, Greenery, and Obesity in Adults: Secondary Analysis of European Cross Sectional Survey. British Medical Journal 331:611-612.

Takano, T., K. Nakamura, and M. Watanabe. 2002. Urban Residential Environments and Senior Citizens’ Longevity in Mega-City Areas: The Importance of Walkable Green Space. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 56, 12:913–916.

Maas, J., R.A. Verheij, P.P. Groenewegen, S. de Vries, and P. Spreeuwenberg. 2006. Green Space, Urbanity, and Health: How Strong is the Relation? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 60:587–592.


Discovery Day reveals new access to the Tualatin River at Farmington

“We fell in, but the water was warm and we laughed about it.”

“We had a great time and will come back soon.”

“It’s super to have a new paddle launch so close to my home.”

“My legs feel like jelly but I want to do it again.”  

From experienced kayakers who have navigated hundreds of water miles, to first timers who enjoyed the easy ride from the middle seat in a canoe, everyone had a blast at this year’s Discovery Day, which celebrated the opening for the new Farmington Paddle Launch.

Centro Cultural, Clean Water Services, Metro and Tualatin Riverkeepers staff and volunteers were on hand to ensure that all boaters had the right equipment and safety gear to enjoy their ride. Discovery Day, a Riverkeepers event now in its 28th year, is all about the Tualatin River. It’s a day to showcase the river’s beauty and health and to introduce more people to one of our region’s important natural and recreational assets. In fact, kicking off the day’s event was a short program featuring community and elected leaders who shared their vision and the collaborative undertaking that resulted in the Farmington Paddle Launch.  

We learned that over 10,000 native plants were installed by work crews and community-driven programs using the help from volunteers. Lots of invasive weeds were removed so that native habitats will support more birds and wildlife. In the coming decades, partners will continue to work side by side to ensure the site adds ecological, economic and recreational value for Washington County.

The history of the Tualatin River is well known. Fifty years ago, the river was a mere trickle, wetlands were drying up, and wildlife habitat was disappearing. Pollution was so bad that the state imposed a building moratorium. Not anymore. Judging from the smiles on full display as folks were helped out of their boats at the Farmington Paddle Launch dock, the Tualatin River is no longer a place to avoid.

Even newcomer Claudia, who just moved to Tigard from San Francisco, noted the changes by telling her sister, “check out the river, it’s lovely and not a mess anymore.”

An International Exchange

Imagine that you're visiting Englewood Park on a Tuesday morning in June, walking along Fanno Creek as it travels through Tigard.  You see a group of about a dozen people walking together, stopping frequently to talk, consult their iPads, and call attention to the plants and wildlife around them.  You overhear one of them talking about an organization whose main objective is "...the conservation and restoration of [their watershed], for the preservation of the natural ecosystems and their biodiversity, with the inhabitants of the rural communities,"

If you think you've stumbled across a group of Tree For All folks, you're only partly right. On June 6, a handful of Clean Water Services staff had the opportunity to meet with a delegation from the Laja Watershed, in central Mexico. The mission statement quoted above is that of an associated group called Salvemos al Rio Laja. 

Delegation members bring extensive experience in watershed management, GIS, forestry education, and agricultural engineering. They were in Oregon as part of the Willamette-Laja Twinning Project, which creates opportunities for restoration leaders in the two watersheds to learn from each other. 

Englewood Park is one of the longest-established Tree For All sites. CWS restored native vegetation in 2004, and beaver returned about five years later. It proved the perfect site for a long and rich conversation on many topics, including:

  • The remeandering of stream channels as a way to prevent continued degradation;
  • The names of native and introduced plants at the site;
  • Beavers as a keystone species that creates habitat for other species;
  • Funding sources;
  • Community engagement, through community science projects, schools, and planting events;
  • Culturally sensitive ways of planning and framing volunteer activities.

While exploring the eBird app, the group was delighted to discover that they weren't the first Englewood Park visitors from their part of Mexico. It turns out that robins migrate between Guanajuato state and Tigard. Fortunately, restoration advocates are now following the same path--in both directions!


Visit the Willamette River Initiative Site to read a story and view a presentation about the Willamette-Laja Twinning Project. View the Fanno Creek case study to learn more about Tree For All activities in this area.