This is because green space can reduce stress, improve your mental health, help you become more physically active, and improve our immune systems—and these factors all contribute to living longer and healthier lives.
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, several studies have noted that levels of anxiety have surged alongside the virus, increasing the prevalence of sleep issues and substance abuse, and creating an even higher risk for contracting COVID-19. Dealing with negative emotional health effects will likely depend on your specific situation, but a new study published in the journal Ecological Applications offers a starting point: Get outside.
Using an online questionnaire completed by 3,000 adults in Tokyo, researchers looked at the link between going outside into a natural setting—or even just seeing green space from a window—and mental health outcomes, such as self-esteem, loneliness, depression, life satisfaction, and happiness.
They found that seeing or experiencing green space showed significant changes for all of those outcomes, even in urban landscapes. The participants represented both men and women, in a wide range of age groups, and a breadth of sociodemographic categories. Older people, especially those with higher incomes, tended to have a greater association between green space and decreased anxiety, but overall, everyone seemed to benefit from either getting outside or seeing some nature from their windows.
“Our findings suggest a regular dose of nature can contribute to the improvement of a wide range of mental health outcomes, and that’s important right now because of the possible impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” lead study author Masashi Soga, Ph.D., associate professor in the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Tokyo, told Runner’s World. “We’re in the middle of a very stressful event for humans. This suggests that there can be a ‘nature-based solution’ that can help.”
Even before the pandemic, this kind of solution was being touted for its potentially huge benefits. For example, a meta-analysis published last year in Lancet Public Health and funded by the World Health Organization found a considerable association between use of green spaces and health benefits, including longevity. What could boost those results even more is getting active when you’re outside, according to the co-author of that research, Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Ph.D., professor in environmental epidemiology at the Barcelona Institute for Global Research.
“We know that green space can reduce stress and improve mental health, may lead to more physical activity and social contacts, reduce air pollution, noise, and heat island effects, and improve our immune systems,” he told Runner’s World. “That may all contribute to longer and healthier lives.”
Exercise has already been shown to be a stress buster to some degree, and combining that with the benefits of seeing and experiencing nature could dial that up a few notches, according to Nieuwenhuijsen.
Quick reminder: Even if you’re taking a quick ride or short stroll outside to get the benefits of activity and green space, don’t forget to wear your mask. Here are a few of our top picks:
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