Awareness is growing around the world about the health impacts of green spaces. The World Health Organization recommends that all people reside within 300 m of green spaces.
A walk in the park a day keeps the doctor away. There is extensive research on the positive impacts of exposure to green spaces on health and well-being. More and more health professionals encourage their patients to spend time in nature, also known as “park recipes”.
The reduction of several chronic diseases and associated symptoms, such as anxiety, obesity and cardiovascular diseases, has been associated with the presence and access to green spaces. Increased green space can also improve the perception of neighborhood safety and lead to an actual reduction in crime rates as measured by police reports.
The importance of green spaces for mental health
As countries become increasingly urbanized, the world’s population spends less and less time exposed to natural environments. It has been reported that 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and this is expected to rise to 68% by 2050 (United Nations, 2018). Unfortunately, urbanization doesn’t just mean spending less time in natural environments, but more time destroying them and reducing the amount of green space around the world. Apart from the detrimental environmental effects of this, the loss of these green spaces and the time spent in them could have very negative effects on people’s mental health and well-being.
Green spaces can lower stress levels and lower rates of depression and anxiety, lower cortisol levels, and improve general well-being. A simple walk in nature can not only improve your mood, but also improve your cognitive function and memory. Green spaces can provide a buffer against the negative health impacts of stressful life events.
A Dutch study showed that residents with a greater area of green space within a 3 km radius had a better relationship with stressful life events that would soon become increasingly important in recent years with the effects of COVID-19. . A recent study found that those who had access to natural spaces during the COVID-19 lockdowns had lower levels of stress, and those who could view nature from home had less psychological distress.
Green spaces also promote certain behaviors, such as encouraging physical activity within the space, which is behavior in favor of mental health.
In particular, children seem to benefit from green spaces. For example, one study showed that children who attended a school with more green space had significantly better cognitive functioning than those who attended a school with less green space, while another study found that early childhood exposure to green spaces leads to lower mental health. problems in adult life.
Climate change is causing more severe and frequent heat waves, droughts, rains and storms. Increasing the number of green spaces can help combat the effects of climate change. This is achieved by providing natural cooling of air and surfaces, supporting water management in urban areas, and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Vegetation included in urban design has the added benefit of absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, helping to limit the rate of climate change. A mature tree can absorb up to 150 kg of carbon dioxide each year: planting 12 trees can offset the full value of one person’s carbon dioxide emissions for a year.
Green Spaces and Longevity
Green spaces in cities can help people live longer. Recent estimates estimate that around 3.3% of deaths in the world are due to lack of physical activity, mainly as a result of poor pedestrian accessibility and limited access to recreational areas.
Green spaces in cities reduce premature mortality. They found that for every 0.1 increase in vegetative score within 500 meters of a person’s home, there was a 4% reduction in premature mortality.
A higher proportion of green spaces was associated with less disparity in coronavirus infection rates. Increased access to green spaces is likely to promote physical activity, which can improve the immune system. Green spaces improve mental health and reduce stress, which also promotes a healthy immune system. They strengthen social ties, which is an important predictor of health and well-being, the researchers said. Green spaces can also decrease infection risk by improving air quality and decreasing exposure to air pollutants in dense urban areas.
Contact with green space has been found to be “restorative”, both psychologically and physiologically, lowering blood pressure and stress levels and potentially promoting faster healing from surgery.
Green spaces are beneficial for children’s lung health
Children who have access to green spaces close to their homes have fewer respiratory problems, such as asthma and wheezing, as adults and tend to have better lung function. Getting closer to nature reduces stress, which can improve physical health and could have a positive effect on children’s microbiomes, the community of different bacteria that live in our bodies.
Living in greener neighborhoods as children get older is more important to their breathing than living in a green area when they were born. This may be because babies spend much less time outdoors than children. Moving to greener areas may be a possible strategy to improve children’s lung function. Trees were associated with greater reductions in hospitalization when pollutant levels were higher.
Benefits of green spaces on birth outcomes
A growing number of studies have reported associations between maternal exposure to green spaces and increased birth weight. There is scientific evidence that maternal exposure to natural environments promotes healthy fetal growth.
Healthy fetal growth can greatly reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes, both early and later in life. For example, low birth weight babies may be at increased risk of impaired growth, lower IQ, and premature death in infancy, as well as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes in adulthood.
Green space and premature birth
Maternal exposure to residential green spaces was associated with a lower risk of preterm birth (born
Virtual green space increases the well-being of pregnant women
Visual exposure to a virtual green space environment was associated with lower systolic blood pressure, reduced salivary alpha-amylase (an indicator of stress), better positive emotions, improvements in mental health and well-being, and decreased emotions. negative compared to non-green. space environment. Exposure to a high green space setting in a park-like setting had the strongest impacts on stress recovery.
Green space and cardiovascular disease
It has been proposed that exposure to green spaces is beneficially associated with cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Mortality rates from ischemic heart and cerebrovascular diseases are inversely associated with exposure to green spaces. Trees reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by promoting physical activity, reducing stress, mitigating excess heat and air pollution. High-quality green spaces can also reduce loneliness, which also benefits heart health.
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