Global data involving more than 290 million people confirms what we’ve been saying for years: Time outdoors could save your life. This is but one of many reasons we are trying to coax you out into the woods for the next Gangsta Goddess retreat…We know that you want to join us but if you need to justify it so that others in your life would equally encourage you to go, then read on my friend!
Most of us know from experience that taking a hike in the woods or a walk in the park makes us feel good. Until I started researching more about the physical health benefits of time spent outdoors, I figured it was just because greenspaces makes the tree hugging introverted side to me feel like I’ve come home but ever since the development and spreading awareness of Japan’s shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”), science has been increasingly backing up all the positive ways in which the body responds to nature.
And now, a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia have studied data from 20 countries – including the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan – involving more than 290 million people to confirm that “living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits.”
The report concludes that exposure to greenspace – defined as “open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery” – reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure, among other benefits.
“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood,” says lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost.”
“We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits,” Twohig-Bennett adds. “It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration.”
“People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress.”
Noting the abundance of stress and all the conversations about the negative impacts. Our science community often attempts to quantifying the negative impacts in terms of “lost days of work or productivity”. I, personally, think it’s quite enough to feel ill and that’s enough of reason to take corrective steps but to lend a dollar value to how this impacts our economy…In 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost employers $225.8 billion annually in the United States, or $1,685 per employee. And it is impossible to quantify the sense of loss of vitality and connectedness to our environment and loved ones…so all the more reason to get out in the sacred spaces of nature.
And while researchers are currently having to reside in the great mystery of not knowing everything (imagine that!) of HOW nature causes these benefits; there are a number of ideas. Living near greenspaces may offer more chances for physical activity and socializing, for example. Meanwhile, nature doesn’t wait for science to figure it out – it just continues to do it for us. Now all we have to is get out in it so that it can continue to heal us and boost our immune system and reduce inflammation. What a gift.
In Japan, researchers have previously discovered that much of the benefit comes from breathing phytoncides like α-pinene and limonene, which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds emitted from trees. Yay, trees, thank you!
Twohig-Bennett says that they hope the research will nudge people to spend more time outside, and even inspire design and planning that makes nature more accessible.
“We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves. 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.”