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Comparison of the physiological and psychological benefits of tree and tower climbing

Key Message

More tension, confusion, and fatigue were experienced when climbing a tower than when climbing a tree. Moreover, there was an increase in vitality while tree climbing, whereas the opposite occurred while climbing the tower. Therefore, tree climbing was associated with positive emotions, whereas tower climbing was associated with negative emotions.

Source

Gathright, J., Yamada, Y., & Morita, M. (2006). Comparison of the physiological and psychological benefits of tree and tower climbing. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 5(3), 141-149.

Purpose

Considerable empirical and theoretical research asserts that nature and outdoor activities have restorative and therapeutic benefits. Research into the effects of environmental therapy on human behavior indicates that interaction
with natural surroundings enhances well-being and encourages better health.

This research compared the physiological and psychological effects of climbing a live tree in a forest with those found after climbing a concrete tower of the same height in the same forest. Physiological and psychological tests were conducted on the climbers before, during, and after each climb.

Recreational tree climbing has been gaining popularity as a form of organized outdoor activity. In April 2000, Tree Climbing Japan (TCJ, a nonprofit organization) established the first tree-climbing school in Japan.
Although TCJ organizes recreational tree-climbing activities, the organization’s main focus is the creation of tree-climbing programs that enhance the therapeutic and rehabilitative aspects of climbing trees. Programs were created for tree and forest appreciation, preservation,
and environmental education. Tree-climbing-based rehabilitation (TreeHab) and tree-assisted-therapy (Tree Therapy) programs were also established to enable disabled persons and people of all ages to climb trees. (TreeHab and Tree Therapy are original program names and registered trademarks of TCJ.)

In July 2001, as part of the TCJ TreeHab program, Toshiko Hikosaka (57 years of age) became the first paraplegic person in the world to leave her electric wheelchair and climb to the top of a 78-m-tall Sequoia tree. Mass media coverage of this event created immense public interest in TCJ TreeHab and Tree Therapy programs throughout Japan.

Methods
Subjects and location
In recruiting subjects, we attempted to represent as closely as possible the profile of an actual tree-climbing population, as logged by TCJ on insurance forms completed prior to each climb. Records of 734 adult tree climbers who climbed in the Seto area community forest from April 2003 to April 2004 showed a mean age of 27.3 years and a female to male gender split of 32.9%. We recruited a subject group of 11 inexperienced climbers with an age range of 22–51 years (mean ¼ 25.7 years) from university students and faculty members. The gender split was four females and seven males,
approximating that of actual tree-climbing participants. To ensure that each member had equal knowledge and experience of tree climbing, the entire group underwent a 4-day tree-climbing course. All subjects were taught the double rope technique (DRT), the method used by TCJ for tree-climbing programs.

Evidence

OVERALL, Physiological test results indicated that climbers’ bodies were more relaxed after tree climbing than after tower climbing.

” Results suggests that they felt less stress after tree climbing compared to tower climbing. The remaining four subjects experienced higher levels of cortisol concentrations after tree climbing compared to tower climbing, indicating less stress after tower climbing.

POMS suggests that more tension, confusion, and fatigue are experienced when climbing the tower than when climbing the tree. Moreover, there was an increase in vitality while tree climbing, whereas the opposite occurred while climbing the tower. Therefore, tree climbing was associated with positive emotions, whereas tower climbing was associated with negative emotions. The climbing evaluation questionnaires revealed similar findings. Fig. 13 gives the results of the total points for each of the climbing evaluation questions. Tree climbing was rated more highly in the positive aspects of climbing while tower climbing was rated more highly in the negative aspects of climbing. This trend was also evident in our other psychological tests.

CONCLUSION
Something of particular interest to us is further research into the benefits of the tree-climbing based-rehabilitation program ‘‘TreeHab’’ and tree assisted-therapy ‘‘Tree Therapy’’ programs for emotionally, physically, and mentally disabled people. For the purpose of our experiment, we limited our research to tree climbing in a community forest, but tree-climbing activities can also be performed in city parks and urban forests. In fact, just under half of TCJ climbing activities take place in city parks or urban surroundings. The implementation of special TreeHab programs in urban and community forests could not only create a new perspective on the restorative and therapeutic benefits of natural environments, but could create a new field of therapy within community and urban forests.

The popularity of TreeHab and Tree Therapy programs could influence future designs in urban greening as communities and governments create parks and urban forests to better accommodate therapeutic and rehabilitative tree-climbing activities.

Additional Information

EXSUM | 2006 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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