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Vitamin G: Green Space For Your Health

Born in the city and raised with the luxuries associated with urban living, I have never been one for camping, hiking in the woods, or climbing trees in apple orchards. I never thought that avoiding nature and all of the creepy-crawlies living in it would have hurt my health, but research on the topic suggests otherwise.

It has long been known in the fields of psychology and health that a natural environment has profound effects on our well-being. As people have gradually moved from rural areas to urban areas, we no longer experience the stimuli from natural environments the way our ancestors did – and we may be an unhealthier society because of it.

A considerable number of studies have shown that both viewing natural scenes and being in nature impact our health in very positive ways. Consider the following studies:

1. A 1984 study published in the journal Science examined the recovery rates of surgical patients between 1972 and 1981. The researchers found that the patients who had been assigned to rooms overlooking a natural scene (e.g. trees and animals) spent shorter time in hospital, required fewer painkillers, and experienced fewer post-operative complications than the patients who had been assigned to rooms facing the brick wall of the building next door.

2. Various studies have found that office workers who have a window facing a nature setting experience fewer illnesses, lower stress levels regarding their job, and higher job satisfaction compared to workers who did not.

3. A study published in the 1997 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that when people move from urban areas to rural areas for a few days, they are less irritable, concentration and problem-solving abilities improve, and mental fatigue is reduced.

4. A recent study published in the July 2006 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the percentage of green space in a person’s living environment is positively associated with their perception of their general health. In other words, the more green space they are exposed to in their living environment, the healthier they feel they are.

5. A study published in the December 2002 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that senior citizens living in a densely populated urban megacity (Tokyo) lived longer if they had easy access to a public green space (e.g. a park) where they could take walks.

These are only a handful of examples in a considerable body of research which suggests that both viewing nature and being in a green setting have a positive influence on both our physiological and mental health. Suggestions for how you might apply this to improve your own health include:

1. Visit a rural environment or green space as often as you can, for walks, bike rides, picnics, and other relaxing activities.

2. If possible, request a room with a view of nature if you’ll be staying somewhere for a length of time (e.g. office, hospital).

3. Choose to live in an area where a green space (e.g. park, forest) is nearby and easily accessible.

4. Take up gardening, and contribute to a community garden if possible. Gardening indoors counts too, as even this type of contact with nature has been shown to reduce stress and influence health in positive ways.

5. Spend time with animals. You don’t need to get a pet to do this – visiting a zoo, an aquarium, a farm, and even spending time with someone else’s pet or feeding wildlife (e.g. birds) have positive effects on health.


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