Spending time in nature is good for your health, new study confirms

By Marina Wang

We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

A new study from the University of East Anglia adds to Thoreau’s sentiment and explores another compelling reason to spend more time in the great outdoors—exposure to greenspaces was found to reduce the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, premature birth, stress, and high blood pressure.

“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood,” said lead author of the study Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett. “We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits.”

The researchers conducted a review and meta-analysis of 140 studies from around the world and compared the health of those that had little access to green spaces to those with high amounts of exposure to nature. They found that those that lived in or frequently spent time in greenspaces had a variety of health benefits, most notably pertaining to stress, diabetes, and cardiovascular health.

However, the researchers also noted that exactly how greenspaces affect health is not well-known. They posited that those living near greenspaces may have more opportunities for physical exercise and also referenced studies from Japan about how beneficial bacteria from the outdoors can influence health. “People living near greenspace likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socialising,” said Twohig-Bennett. “Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation.”

In Japan shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, is already popular pastime.

The researchers hope that their study, published in Environmental Research, might inform healthcare professionals and city planners to consider the health benefits of green spaces. “We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves,” said Twohig-Bennett. “Hopefully our results will encourage policymakers and town planners to invest in the creation, regeneration, and maintenance of parks and greenspaces, particularly in urban residential areas and deprived communities that could benefit the most.”

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