As a rather severe winter fades and spring approaches it seems like a good time to write about an interesting study I came across a while back about the health benefits of living near green spaces. The perceived connection between closeness to nature and one’s health is not new, and is one which is not hard to accept on just an intuitive level. Particularly at this time of year after having had so much snow it can feel good to just see the green grass again!1
This study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (JECH), differs from its predecessors by being the first to evaluate possible relationships between where people live and specific medical conditions. Prior studies have primarily explored relationships between where people live and various self-perceived measures of physical and mental health. The results of prior studies have been consistent with what we would intuitively expect of there being a positive relationship between green space in one’s living environment and one’s physical and mental well-being (e.g., stress reduction).
The JECH study took data from 195 Dutch doctors, serving a population of over 345,000 people, and cross-referenced the various medical diagnoses with information related to where individuals lived. Thus they were able to find associations between various locations and various medical conditions. The study found that people who lived closer to green spaces had lower incidents of several medical and mental health issues. The effect was greatest for the mental health categories of anxiety disorder and depression. Other health categories with a strong effect from green spaces included: coronary heart disease, musculoskeletal issues (e.g., neck, back, shoulder), respiratory issues (e.g., asthma), and neurological issues (e.g., migraines, vertigo).2
While this study does not answer the question of why people living near green spaces tend to experience better physical and mental wellness, it nonetheless adds to a growing body of research that reinforces the value of being around and out and about in nature. Now that we can see the grass again in Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah Valley I hope that you will be able to get out and enjoy some of the benefits of all of that green.
- Photo by Alyson Hurt. ↩
- Morbidity is Related to A Green Living Environment, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2009; 63:967-973 (doi:10.1136/jech.2008.079038). ↩
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