Why ‘Going Green’ is Good for your Health
By Kyle Riley BSc (hons)
Our environment has a direct impact on both physical and mental wellbeing whether we realise it or not. Studies have found instant changes in the activity of the brain through simply viewing different environments. With nature scenes activating the parts of the brain associated with empathy and love and urban scenes activating the parts of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.
Furthermore, the benefits of living in or close to a green space has been linked to lower rates of high blood pressure and depression, a reduction in the risk of heart disease and better sleep. Whereas living in an urban area has been linked with increased mortality and reduced life expectancy, particularly due to the increase in exposure to things like air pollution, traffic congestion and noise pollution.
Time in nature has also been shown to have other surprising benefits. A classic study by Robert Ulrich put gallbladder surgery patients into 2 groups; 1 group were provided with a view of trees and the other a view of a wall. The study found that patients with the view of trees could tolerate pain better, appeared to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital.
Unfortunately, our current way of life is moving us away from nature. It is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will live in an urban area by 2050 and currently the average American spends around 90% of their awake time indoors. Given the dramatic impact time in nature can have on both physical and mental wellbeing, it is important that as urbanisation continues to expand, that we prioritise spending time in nature as a key part of our health plan.
So, how much is enough?
A study published in Nature determined the minimum threshold of time spent in nature to maintain good health and mental wellbeing is 120 minutes a week. However, unlike other healthy habits such as exercise, there doesn’t seem to be an ‘upper limit’, meaning the more the better.
Going Green- Tips to get more nature time
- Hikes and nature walks: Kill two birds with one stone and get some physical activity in alongside time in nature, check out apps such as All Trails to find popular trails near you that match your ability levels.
- Gardening: Spend time in your back garden planting food and tending to plants. Getting your hands in the soil and sun on your face can be a great way of gaining all of the health benefits of nature with additional physical activity and of course, the reward of growing your own food.
- Outdoor Breaks: Take your lunch break outside, a simple 20 minute outdoor break can provide just as much of an energy boost as grabbing that next cup of coffee.
- Nature Gazing: Even if you can’t get out into nature, taking time out to look into nature can help to lower stress. Additionally, spending 2-10 minutes daily (even if through a window) viewing morning and evening sunlight has been found to support mental, physical and immune health by regulating circadian rhythms.
However you get it, time in nature is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve your physical and mental health. If you are a health professional, add ‘time spent in nature’ to your assessment protocol and look to support your clients in at least reaching the minimum recommendations outlined above.
Callaghan, G. McCombe, A. Harrold, C. McMeel, G. Mills, N. Moore-Cherry & W. Cullen (2021) The impact of green spaces on mental health in urban settings: a scoping review, Journal of Mental Health, 30:2, 179-193, DOI: 10.1080/09638237.2020.1755027
Mireia Gascona, Margarita Triguero-Mas David Martínez Payam Dadvand, MD, David Rojas-Rueda Antoni Plasènciaa , Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen – Residential green spaces and mortality: a systematic review http://diposit.ub.edu/dspace/bitstream/2445/99572/1/gascon2015_2007.pdf
Russo A, Cirella GT. Modern Compact Cities: How Much Greenery Do We Need?. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(10):2180. Published 2018 Oct 5. doi:10.3390/ijerph15102180
Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224(4647), 420-421.
Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A., & Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 11(3), 201-230.