A new study of studies by the University of East Anglia shows that spending time outside improves health signifigantly. The report revealed that exposure to green spaces and parks reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, premature births in expectant mothers and high blood pressure. The study also showed a marked reduction in levels of stress. Those in the large-scale study exposed to green spaces were also far more likely to report good levels of general health and well-being.
The study was funded by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) which is run by the University of Cambridge, the University of East Anglia and the UK Clinical Research Collaboration. It looked at data from 290 million people in 20 countries including the UK, the USA, Spain, France, Australia, Germany and Japan.
‘Green space’ was defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation but also included urban green spaces and parks.
The head of the study, Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, 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.”
She added, “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.”
The authors of the study hope that their results will encourage doctors to encourage patients to spend more time in parks and green spaces as part of their treatment. In Japan, the pastime of “forest bathing” has become popular, with participants spending time wandering through or lying/sitting in forests for periods of time. The health improvements seen in these people and combined with the larger study should be viewed on a par with clinical trials, the authors hope.
Lead author Twohig-Bennett also said, “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.”
Co-authour of the study, professor Andy Jones, added, “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.”