Living closer to Nature and spending time outside has numerous health benefits, including reducing risk of premature death and Type 2 diabetes, according to new research from the University of East Anglia, UK.
The new report revealed that exposure to more green space reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes, premature death, cardiovascular disease, preterm birth, stress and high blood pressure.
It was found that areas with higher levels of green space exposure were more likely to report good overall health, according to global data accumulated from over 290 million people.
Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, lead author of the study from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Spending time in Nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood.
“We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether Nature really does provide a health boost.”
What classifies as green space?
The study, which comprised data from 20 countries, including the UK, Spain, Germany and France, defined green space as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation, as well as urban green spaces, including urban parks and street greenery.
The research team analysed the impact of having little access to green spaces and high access on the overall health of people.
How did spending time in green space impact health?
According to Bennett: “We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of Type 2 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 green space significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress.
“This is really important because in the UK, 11.7 million working days are lost annually due to stress, depression or anxiety.”
She added: “People living near green space likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socialising. Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation.”
“Exposure to health-promoting environments”
Study co-author Professor Andy Jones, also from UEA, said: “We often reach for medication when we’re unwell, but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognised as both preventing and helping treat disease. Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact.”
Bennett concluded: “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 green spaces, particularly in urban residential areas and deprived communities that could benefit the most.”