Would you believe that simply being around trees and greener spaces can improve your health?
There are many known health benefits to spending time in nature, but now science has shown this conclusively. A new study has found that people with high exposure to greenspaces are healthier and have lower risks of certain diseases than people with low exposure to greenspaces.
Researchers from the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia, U.K. conducted a systematic review. A systematic review entails gathering relevant data from many published studies to draw new conclusions that those studies might not have enough data to support on their own.
This is a powerful method of research because, by combining several individual studies, there is more statistical power in the data and new conclusions can be drawn.
This research synthesized data from 143 different scientific studies covering more than 290 million people from 20 different countries.
All of the studies included some measure of greenspaces and the affect they had on people’s health. Combining all this data, the conclusions were clear: greenspace is healthy in many ways.
Specifically, these are the health outcomes that the researchers could say were significantly reduced with statistical confidence.
1. Cardiovascular Disease
That’s right, greenspace is good for your heart.
People living near greenspaces and spending more time outdoors have a lower risk for cardiovascular mortality.
The same effect was even observed in low-income neighborhoods:
“Increased neighbourhood greenness was also reported to decrease the effect of income deprivation on both all cause and cardiovascular mortality”
2. Type II Diabetes
Also called Adult Onset Diabetes, Type II diabetes is very common in the U.S. Fortunately, the risk of type II diabetes decreases when you increase your exposure to greenspaces.
This is not to say that somehow greenspace directly prevents diabetes but there is a correlation between reduced risk and greenspace exposure. It is possible that there is another variable, for example being active, that actually reduces the risk of diabetes and being active also correlates with greenspace exposure.
3. Premature Death
Researchers here considered all types of death and found that people more exposed to greenspaces and spending time outside were simply less likely to die an early death.
The researchers in this study don’t discuss why they think this is true but one study in Holland, covering more than 250,000 people, found that a wide variety of diseases were less common in people living near greenspaces.
One US study found a 12% lower mortality in people exposed to greenness and showed the biggest improvements were lower risks of cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease.
I think it’s safe to say that increasing exposure to greenspaces can make you healthier and generally less susceptible to diseases, which makes you less likely to die.
4. Preterm Birth
The study found that pregnant mothers who spent a high amount of time in greenspaces were more likely to carry babies to full term. Babies born too early are at risk for several development disorders, according to the CDC.
The study not only found that mother’s with high exposure to greenspaces carry babies to full term, but they are also less likely to give birth to underweight babies.
Its no secret to anyone that goes outside regularly that more time outside helps reduce stress.
This is not a secret to researchers either.
Researchers have known for quite some time that taking a walk in the woods reduces the stress-hormone cortisol.
This may have important, practical implications for the work place because in the U.K. alone, 11.7 million working days are lost due to stress, anxiety, or depression.
6. High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is a very common measurement in health studies so there was plenty of data. And the results were clear – spending time outside lowers blood pressure.
This may be because spending time outside lowers your pulse (possibly also linked to reduced stress, see #6).
This finding could have massive implication for Americans because over 100 milllion Americans have high blood pressure. Maybe it’s time we treat greenspace seriously as something that can influence our health.
7. Poor Overall Health
The most statistically significant finding of the article was that people with high greenspace exposure reported better overall health than those with low greenspace exposure.
Most studies record self-reported overall health because general health is an undefined thing and thus hard to actually measure. So essentially the question asked was “how healthy do you think you are?”
The findings here are very clear – people with high exposure to greenspaces feel healthier.
By synthesizing data from 143 studies, researchers were able to show conclusively that greenspace exposure is good for your health. Specifically, the risk of several negative health outcomes was reduced including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, premature death, preterm birth, and high blood pressure. People with high exposure to greenspaces also felt less stressed and reported better overall health.
Although not mentioned here, the role of vitamin D on your physical and mental health is often overlooked. Read more about how getting outside helps you get vitamin D and the role it plays in your health.
Motivated to get out a little more? Check out my list of ways you can sneak in a little more outdoor time and improve your health: 7 ways busy people can spend more time outside and be happier doing it
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