More and more, people are beginning to understand that it is important to protect and heal the environment, but did you know that the environment can heal you, too? Spending time outdoors in green spaces is important for our physical and emotional well-being, and there is some compelling evidence that those who make a habit of enjoying nature are happier and healthier.
According to a Dutch study, people who live within half a mile of a park or forest experience less anxiety and depression than those who don’t. In addition, those who are regularly exposed to natural sunlight are much less likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression triggered by the shorter days of winter. Another study found that children with Attention Deficit Disorder are better able to concentrate after engaging in outdoor play than after indoor activities such as watching television or playing video games.
And getting outdoors is as good for your body as it is for your mind. For one thing, people who make a regular habit of getting outdoors get more exercise, on average, than those who don’t. Children with greater access to nature are less likely to be overweight or obese, and senior citizens who regularly spend time outdoors have a lower mortality rate.
More time outside also means more Vitamin D. Recent estimates suggest as many as 70% of Americans are deficient in this key vitamin. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, which can increase bone mass and strength, preventing osteoporosis and broken bones. Getting enough Vitamin D can also slow the deterioration of cartilage that causes arthritis, strengthens the immune system, giving the body greater ability to reduce inflammation from infections, and increase muscle strength. Medical research also suggests that it may have a role in preventing diabetes, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and multiple sclerosis.
Nature may even help people with serious injuries or illnesses to recover more quickly. A few different studies have shown that hospital patients recover more quickly if they have a view of trees and natural light than if there is a wall outside their windows.
Green spaces have social benefits, too. Neighborhoods with more trees and parks have lower crime rates and more interaction between neighbors.
So, while it’s important to give back to the Earth, don’t be afraid to take a little back for yourself, in the form of a little physical and mental respite.