Spending Time Outdoors Boosts Health

Posted by Lynn Bronikowski

Spending time outdoors and enjoying nature has wide-ranging health benefits, including lower blood pressure and reduced cardiovascular disease, according to a global study.

That’s the word from researchers at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, who say exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, pre-term birth, stress, and high blood pressure. Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of stroke.

“Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood,’ said Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, lead author 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.”

The research team studied data from 20 countries including the UK, the U.S., Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan—where Shinrin yoku or “forest bathing’”is a popular practice.

“Green space” was defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery.  The team analyzed how the health of people with little access to green spaces compared to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure.

“People living near greenspace likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socializing,” said Twohig-Bennett. “Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation. “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.”

Study co-author professor Andy Jones of UEA, added, “We often reach for medication when we’re unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized 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.”

The research team hope that their findings will prompt healthcare professionals to recommend that patients spend more time in greenspace and natural areas. “We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves,” said Twohig-Bennett. “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.”

The study was published in the journal Environmental Research.