Being Near Nature Improves Health, Both Physical & Mental

Nature Improves Health

A recent study showed what many people already intuitively know: living close to nature improves health and contributes to your peace of mind. Of 24 health problems assessed in a large study in Holland, 15 occurred less often in people who lived relatively close to green spaces. The difference was greatest for anxiety and depression, but included many physical diseases as well.

Anne Frank, without the benefit of the study, put it eloquently: "The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature."

"Doses of nature" also help significantly reduce ADHD symptoms, studies have shown. And of course, green spaces don't bring on any of the grave problems that ADHD medication can cause. Contact with nature also reduces stress hormones in students in general. -- Editors of Natural Health Strategies

By Amanda Gardner, HealthDay, October 16, 2009

The closer you live to nature, the healthier you're likely to be. For instance, people who live within 1 kilometer (.6 miles) of a park or wooded area experience less anxiety and depression, Dutch researchers report.

The findings put concrete numbers on a concept that many health experts had assumed to be true.

"It's nice to see that it shows that, that the closer humans are to the natural environment, that seems to have a healthy influence," said Dr. David Rakel, director of integrative medicine and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

One previous study had noted fewer health inequalities between rich and poor people in areas with lots of green space, and other studies have echoed these health benefits. But much of this research had relied on people's perceptions of their physical and mental health.

This new objective look at the matter involved scouring medical records of 345,143 people in Holland, assessing health status for 24 conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. This information was then correlated with how much green space was located within 1 kilometer and 3 kilometers of a person's postal code.

People living in more urban environments had a higher prevalence of 15 of the 24 conditions, with the relationship strongest for anxiety disorder and depression.

Any number of factors could account for the benefits of green space, experts said.

But much of the relief may come from the simple ability to de-stress.

"If we're in a busy street with more technology and artificial things, we're going to be multi-tasking more, which prevents us from focusing on one thing," Rakel said. "In this day and age, we really need some sort of centering practice. We need to get our mind out of its own stories and focus on something that's pure. Nature is a beautiful example of that--it's the way things were meant to be."

This study has "implications not only for city planning but also for indoor design and architecture," said Richard Ryan, professor of psychology, psychiatry and education at the University of Rochester Medical Center. But the benefit is proportional to how much people pay attention to nature, he said.

"If they're in their heads and not paying attention, it doesn't do them much good," said Ryan, co-author of a recent study report that people who are exposed to natural elements are more socially oriented, more generous and value community more. Another experiment he was involved in found that people who spent time outdoors had more vitality and energy.

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