A recent study from researchers at Texas A&M University, the University of Georgia and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found that people's attachment to the wilderness can be explained by their basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and competence. Additional research links place attachment, specifically to areas where trees are plentiful, to feelings of well-being, suggesting that spending time in natural areas can provide positive mental and physical health outcomes and improve healing.

With increased stress and isolation due to COVID-19, natural areas and the psychological benefits they provide are needed now more than ever, researchers say.   

Gerard Kyle, conducted a cross-sectional study along with a select group of his former coworkers and students, surveying 795 Americans to assess their attachment to a wilderness area that is special to them. The study, Psychological Needs Satisfaction and Attachment to Natural Landscapes, was recently published in Environment and Behavior.

Building off of the research of Kyle and associates, and others that suggest wilderness and treescapes promote physical, psychological and social health, the Texas A&M Forest Service introduced a great initiative they call Healthy Trees, Healthy Lives. A collaboration, not only to bring more trees into the urban environment, but also to do the research that shows what a benefit they have both to human physical health and human mental health.

Documenting the value of green space

Kyle said when brought into cities and urban areas, natural spaces have the potential to improve well-being, beyond just physical health.

"Protected areas situated in and around cities—often referred to as green infrastructure—are important for the array of ecosystem services they afford," he said. "We document their contribution to human wellbeing; but they have so many other benefits that will contribute to our cities' adaptive capacity and resilience."

Kyle said these natural areas are known to ameliorate threats of flooding, urban heat, water quality and air pollution—improving overall quality of life. Ensuring access to natural areas has become increasingly important in the wake of COVID-19, he said, as health guidelines have restricted social interaction and time spent outside the home.

"Green spaces, particularly those close to home, provide opportunities to escape isolation in safe and healthy ways,"