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UK study seeks healthier people, trees

Kirklevington Park is one of two parks study participants can walk. Harrod Hills is the other.

PHOTO: Lynne Rieske-Kinney, UK professor of forest entomology
Lexington, Ky.

University of Kentucky researchers are looking for Lexingtonians interested in improving their health while gaining a greater awareness of their natural environment for a six-week research pilot project.

The project, titled “Healthy Trees-Healthy People,” gets participants out into two Lexington parks to walk and assess the health of selected trees. During the study, they will complete a daily log of their physical activity and tree health observations on designated trails at either Kirklevington Park or Harrods Hill Park. Depending on the park, routes are just under a half-mile and a mile.

Leading the project are Lynne Rieske-Kinney, UK professor of forest entomology in the Department of Entomology, and Kelly Webber, UK associate professor in the Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, both in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

“We’re training citizen scientists in pest and disease detection while asking them to exercise in nature to improve their health,” Rieske-Kinney said. “We are showing them what a healthy tree looks like, so when they see something that’s not normal, they contact their local extension office.”

Exotic pests like the emerald ash borer are already in the state, causing devastating losses. There is also potential for other non-native pests and diseases to show up, like the gypsy moth on oaks and thousand cankers disease on black walnuts. Participants will learn to identify 15 different tree species, evaluate tree health and learn about exotic and native pest threats.

In the process, the researchers are also looking for positive health outcomes in their participants, such as lower blood pressure and reduced stress.

“We are trying to increase people’s physical activity, but it’s so much more than that,” Webber said. “Research has shown that people are happier when they exercise in nature compared to the gym. There’s also evidence that suggests people may learn better and heal quicker by being physically active outside.”

Research assistants will also lead walking tours at both parks for those who do not want to walk alone.

The project is operating on rolling enrollment, and researchers hope to have 100 study participants. For more information or to sign up, contact Teri O’ Day at 859-257-3054 or teri.oday4@uky.edu.

Contact: 

Lynne Rieske-Kinney, 859-257-1167; Kelly Webber, 859-257-4351

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