Live Happier and Hug a Tree

To get away from the city, you go where it's green. The countryside has been a vacation getaway for urban dwellers nearly as long as there have been cities. A new study suggests that we don't just love trees culturally — they set your brain at ease too.

Psychologists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin already knew that people living in cities are at higher risk than those in the country for psychiatric illnesses ranging from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia. The chronic stresses of urban life overload the amygdala, the brain structure that regulates your stress response and how you process danger. This isn't just a chemical reaction either: The research team found that living close to nature means you're more like to have a healthier amygdala structure, which means a more effective system for processing stress.

The study looked at older adults between the ages of 61 and 82, but you can see its conclusions playing out for millennials in more demand for green space in cities, premium housing near major parks, and even the rising popularity of houseplants and "urban jungles" inside apartments. More than 7 in 10 of us worldwide may live in cities by 2050, which makes understanding this phenomenon all the more necessary.

The research team was careful to note that with the data they had, they couldn't conclusively say that living near a forest caused healthier brain structures or whether people with healthier brain structures chose to live near forests. They also could not find a similar bump in brain health for those living near urban green, water, or wasteland. But if you really need to recharge, whether for a weekend or for the long haul, consider finding your own tree to hug. It's doing you more favors than you know.