Spending time in the great outdoors can lift your mood. Now, researchers believe time in green spaces can improve your health, too.
A new study led by Dr. Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett of Norwich Medical School has found that being exposed to green spaces can have a number of different health benefits, including reducing the risk of disorders like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, pre-term birth and high blood pressure, among others.
The team of researchers analyzed more than 140 studies from throughout the world to determine whether time in the great outdoors really offers a boost to health. They defined green spaces as both open rural land and parkland in cities and urban areas.
“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood,” Twohig-Bennett said.
They discovered that people who live near green spaces or spend a lot of time in them also tend to get better sleep and have fewer physical symptoms of stress.
“Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan – with participants spending time in the forest either sitting or lying down, or just walking around. Our study shows that perhaps they have the right idea!” Twohig-Bennett said.
While there’s plenty of research showing the health benefits of visiting nature, the researchers don’t yet know why it has such a relaxing and healing effect on humans.
“People living near green space likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socializing. Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation,” she said.
More research is needed to test these ideas. Still, the researchers hope that the health benefits will encourage more people to spend time outside.
The systematic review and analysis has been published in the journal Environmental Research.
By Kyla Cathey, Earth.com staff writer