Instead of driving to the local, stinky indoor gym or pounding the pavement on dirty city streets, go spend some time in Nature this week. It will probably do you a lot more good. In fact, researchers with the Institute for European Environmental Policy recently reviewed and reported on more than 200 academic studies that provide further evidence of the many healing benefits of spending time in green spaces.
In one of the new studies included in the report, researchers looked at people living in homes in lower socio-economic areas. They compared health outcomes of people living in areas with more trees, vegetation, and access to Nature to those living in urban areas without them.
Outcomes showed that residents who lived near green space were less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on dangerous antidepressant drugs. Overall, the men had a 16 percent lower death rate compared to matched participants living in urban areas. And pregnant women had lower blood pressure and gave birth to healthier babies.
This new report, entitled Nature for Health and Equity, is the most comprehensive investigation yet into the connections among Nature, health and well-being. The advocacy group Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned it. And they aim to give all Europeans access to green spaces within 300 meters of their homes in the next 10 years.
Of course, Europe has long been much more densely populated than North America.
In fact, many historians think that European living environments became almost completely stripped, due to deforestation and disease, by the 1600s.
This sad state of affairs led to the migration of Europeans to the Americas. After the first generation, with assistance from Native Americans, they (along with the plants they brought with them) began to thrive in the new lands surrounded by Nature.
The new report also includes research from several previous studies on which I have reported. In one of the studies, Canadian researchers observed that in terms of health outcomes, just 10 more trees in a city block was equivalent to having an extra $10,000 per year in annual income, or being seven years younger. Clearly, access to Nature can help make-up for the health disparities seen in populations with lower socio-economic status.
In a U.S. study, researchers found that hospital patients with views of trees from their windows were discharged one day earlier than patients whose rooms looked out onto walls. Unfortunately, as I reported a year ago, the venerable Boston Children’s Hospital decided to destroy their historic Prouty Garden on the hospital grounds, so they could build more decidedly unnatural high-tech facilities. Based on this new study, I can only think they are losing more than they think they are gaining from this unfortunate trade-off when it comes to the health of the community.
Nature is an under-appreciated healer
Nature offers many powerful health benefits ¾ including allergy reduction, better mood, increased self-esteem, and improved well-being. In fact, the Nature factor appears to be as large as most of the government’s favorite risk factors (the few that have actually turned out to be correct).
It is interesting to consider that the National Park Service and state and local natural parks may do more overall for health and well-being than anything else in which the government gets involved.
Historically, out on the American frontier, people were often healthier because there were no doctors. But they had greater access to Nature and relied on natural remedies.
Observers from Alex de Tocqueville to Charles Dickens during the 19th century often commented on the unhealthy living conditions in cities compared to more rural areas. Later that century, Silas Weir Mitchell, a Philadelphia neurologist (and novelist), started recommending the “Rest Cure” or “West Cure” and sent patients out into natural areas out West.
Teddy Roosevelt took the West Cure and reversed his severe childhood respiratory problems. Of course, he also went on to become one of our most vigorous and important presidents (still memorialized out West on Mount Rushmore).
Indeed, patients with “incurable” respiratory infections, before the era of antibiotics, experienced 50 percent recovery rates just from taking the Nature Cure. Even before scientists discovered vitamin D, they recognized the link between sunshine and health as part of the Nature Cure.
The idea of “wilderness” ¾ proposed by naturalist John Muir and others at the end of the 19th century ¾ first took hold when most people began living and working in urban environments. Before that time, wilderness was just where people lived, surrounded by Nature.
So ¾ this summer, take advantage of the season by getting out into Nature. Explore your local parks and our national wilderness areas. I saw a report last year that for the first time in recorded history, the amount of forested land has increased in North America, Europe, and even parts of Asia during the past two decades. We certainly don’t hear that good news in fundraising pitches from the environmental alarmist establishment.
Above all, if you are fortunate enough to have trees right in your own local living environment, don’t cut them down and replace them with artificial lawns. And don’t use artificial chemicals on your grass. The birds and the bees will thank you — and so will your health.
“Nature for Health and Equity,” Institute for European Environmental Policy (www.foeeurope.org) 3/21/2017