We decorate our homes and offices with natural elements and earth tone colors.  Such decor provides us a sense of peace and productivity that inspires, relaxes and recharges.  It's a natural sense of energy.

But, bringing the outdoors in may only be an illusion to our senses.  While we may find the atmosphere provides a wonderful place to work or live, there's no substitute for the great outdoors. 

Nature's benefits to our health

According to an article in Science Daily, citing research done at UEA Norwich Medical School, living within close proximity to local green space has a significant impact on your health.  The report included data from over 140 studies with 290 million people from multiple countries to include the UK, US, Spain, Australia,  Germany, Japan and France.

Green space was defined as open-undeveloped land, as well as urban areas like parks and street greenery.

The report indicated that utilizing and having access to local green space reduced diseases and precipitators of poor health.  It compared those who had little exposure and access to green space to those that do.  It revealed wide-ranging health benefits to those with greater access and exposure.  Those who were able to utilize local green space assumed health benefits such as reduced risk for Type II Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, preterm death, preterm birth and poor sleep.  

Those who simply live in an area near green space also had a reduced risk for diastolic hypertension, high heart rate and stress.  A compelling discovery in the research also found that people with exposure to local green space had reduced levels of salivary cortisol, a stress hormone responsible for disease, weight gain and poor health. 

This is significant since, according to the ADAA Anxiety and Depression Association of America who conducted a Stress and Anxiety Workplace Survey in 2006, 72% of people report to having at least moderate stress and anxiety interfere with their lives.  It also indicated that 30% report to have taken medication to manage stress, nervousness, emotional problems or lack of sleep, inclusive of some problems that are shown to have been reduced with regular access and use of local areas like land with natural vegetation, forests and urban green space.

What about nature actually keeps us healthy

The specific correlation between nature and health benefits is still unclear.  However, according to researchers with UEA they considered the possibility that those who live in an area with access to green space have more opportunity for socializing and physical activity.  Both have an overall positive affect on health.  They also speculate that the wide range of bacteria present in natural environments may provide benefits to the immune system and reduce inflammation.  

The Japan studies with findings related to a Japanese activity called "forest bathing", specifically noted phytoncides, organic compounds that provide antibacterial properties, are released by trees and could be part of the health benefits assumed by forest bathers.  Forest bathing is a popular healing therapy in Japan.  Developed in the 80's, it is a preventative health initiative where people immerse their senses in a natural environment.  

The research team goes on to conclude that data supports the overwhelming benefits of access to natural environments could have significant clinical benefits and may reduce the need for certain medications.   

What can I do to improve my health?

Life changing events such as divorce, moving or career changes can induce stress, anxiety and depression.  Many may self-medicate or choose to do nothing to treat their problems, hoping they will just go away. Both may have serious consequence that may be offset with increased time outside in a natural environment.

Many may seek prescription medication for these problems.  While treatment with prescription medication may be necessary, it's clear that the power of nature may be helpful in decreasing the longevity of the problem or medical intervention.  This may reduce the potential for dependence on prescription medicine and long term therapy.  

There are numerous ways to initiate more time utilizing local green space.

    • If moving, locate a new house or apartment in areas with plenty of green space to ensure your likelihood of increased use 
    • Take time to utilize natural environments as often as possible in order to assume the greatest potential for health benefits
    • Plan more outdoor activities with friends and family 
    • Track your progress to recognize benefits (weight, blood pressure, sleep hygiene) associated with outdoor activities
    • Discuss treatment options with your physician for any outdoor allergies that may prevent you from outdoor activities
    • Take time to rest and relax along with physical activities such as walking or biking in natural environments near your home



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