Has bad weather kept you inside for too long?
You may need some time out in a green or blue space.
Getting outside for a walk or a jog or along a lake or a tree-lined area may reduce the need for medication for anxiety, asthma, depression, high blood pressure, or insomnia, a new study found. Green spaces included forests, gardens, parks, cemeteries, moors, natural grasslands, wetlands, and zoos. Blue spaces included lakes, rivers, and the sea.
The study published in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that visiting nature three to four times a week was associated with 36% lower odds of using blood pressure pills, 33% lower odds of using mental health medications, and 26% lower odds of using asthma medications.
Study coauthor Anu 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 when availability or active use of green space are considered.”
Lincoln Larson, an associate professor in the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who was not involved in the study, remarked that “The analysis can reveal key associations, but we can’t say for certain whether it was the greenspace proximity or use that led to reduced use of medications.” He added
“Perhaps people who were healthier to begin with (and less likely to take prescription drugs) were more likely to get outdoors in the first place.”
For the study, researchers interviewed approximately 6,000 random people in three of the largest cities in Finland about their use of green and blue spaces within a kilometer of their homes.
Prior studies have found that people who live near green and blue spaces reap major health benefits.
A study from 2019 found that among people who had spent little or no time in parks, beaches, or woods within a span of seven days, almost half reported low levels of life satisfaction. And one in four said they were in poor health.
In a 2016 study, researchers compared the amount of plant life and vegetation near the homes of almost 100,000 women. After eight years, the researchers found having access to the most green space reduced the women’s death rate by 12% — and improved their mental health.
And a 2019 study of green spaces around the globe found people who live near them are less likely to die prematurely.
This new study also explored the impact of viewing green or blue spaces from home while on medications. Simply observing nature while indoors didn’t seem to work.
“Just seeing nature didn’t really move the needle, but experiencing it did. Other research points to similar conclusions,” said Larson, who has studied the benefits of public parks across the United States 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,” he said.
While research hasn’t been able to prove a true association yet (correlation is not causation), Larson still believes in the benefits of seeing and experiencing nature.
Even something as small as putting a plant on your desk may impact your health. A 2019 study found taking care of plants in the workplace slightly reduced stress for Japanese workers — unless their plant died. According to that study, 27% of the workers showed a significant decrease in their resting heart rate.
As for seeing the most impactful benefits, you need to go outside, especially if the weather is nice and cooperates with you. There is nothing that compares to being out in nature. Filling your lungs with fresh air, feeling the land beneath your feet, smelling the fragrance of flowers, and hearing the songs of the forest (or park) birds beats staying inside any day.
Take some time whenever you can to hang out with some woodland creatures. Or maybe just go for a walk or run and notice the wildlife around you in whatever green or blue space you find yourself!