Last week, we wrote a piece about how time in nature may protect you against Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s. Today we’re sharing more medical reasons to get outdoors.
We usually write about the mental health benefits of time spent outdoors. A new study found that people in cities who spent time in parks, gardens or other green spaces were less likely to need medication for depression, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety or asthma. Income level and social and economic factors didn’t impact how beneficial greenspaces were to people. However, being obese did appear to cancel out the effect.
Researchers in Finland asked 7,321 randomly selected people in three cities how often they visited green and blue spaces near their homes. Blue spaces are places like the beach, lakes and rivers. People who spent time in the natural landscapes three or four times a week were less likely to take some types of medications. They were 26 percent less likely to take asthma medication, 33 percent less likely to take mental health meds and 36 percent less likely to take medication for blood pressure.
Dr. Jochem Klompmaker was the lead researcher on the paper we wrote about last week. He didn’t work on this project. But, understandably, he was pleased to hear of the results. “These results are important because they add to the growing body of evidence showing that being close to nature is good for our patients’ health. We should encourage our patients to take more walks, and if they live near a park, that could be a good place to start to be more physically active and reduce stress levels.”
“We can’t say for certain whether it was the greenspace proximity or use that led to reduced use of medications,” said Lincoln Larson, an associate professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State Univ. “Perhaps people who were healthier to begin with were more likely to get outdoors in the first place.”
The study also asked people if they could see green or blue spaces from windows in their homes. The results showed that views of nature did not impact health. “Just seeing nature didn’t really move the needle, but experiencing it did. Other research points to similar conclusions,” said Prof. Larson, who has studied the benefits of public parks across the U.S. on the well-being of urban dwellers. “If you want to reap the full health benefits that nature can provide, you have to immerse yourself in those settings.”
If you want to immerse yourself in nature but don’t have a park nearby, growing plants in your home may help. A 2019 study found that 27 percent of employees caring for plants on their desks had a decrease in their resting heart rate.
The study’s coauthor Ann Turunen, a senior researcher at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, said, “Physical activity is thought to be the key mediating factor in the health benefits of green spaces.” From that statement, simply walking more might be where part of the benefit is coming from.
With all this in mind, you may want to head to the park or get out into your yard more often. If that’s not an option, buying a potted plant and taking more walks might be another healthy choice!