July 31, 2012
Turns out that your mother’s advice to get out and get some fresh air may have been wiser than she even knew, with one study showing the benefits of nature. A study that analyzed morbidity of more than 345,000 people based on records from 195 different physicians spread across the Netherlands, individuals with a higher percentage of green space within a 1 km radius in the immediate vicinity of their postal code had a lower prevalence of 15 of 24 disease clusters. Morbidity was classified according to the International Classification of Primary Care, a classification “developed in response to an increasing demand for quality information on primary care as part of growing worldwide attention to global primary health care objectives, including the World Health Organization’s target of ‘health for all.’”
More Research Showcases the Benefits of Nature
In another study analyzing the morbidity of 366,000 over a five year period, Scottish researchers found that living near parks, woodland or other open spaces helped to reduce health inequalities related to income and social deprivation. Dr Terry Hartig, from the Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University in Sweden, wrote: “This study offers valuable evidence that green space does more than ‘pretty up’ the neighbourhood – it appears to have real effects on health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously.”
In New York, researchers at Columbia University have found that living in an area with more trees dramatically reduces the likelihood of developing asthma. Rates of asthma among four and five year old children dropped by 25% per every extra 343 trees per square kilometer within their community. Asthma is the leading cause of hospital admission in New York among children less than 15 year of age.
In another twist on the concept, a recent study published in the journal Health and Place, reports that based on a census of 48 million individuals, those living on the English coast ‘feel’ healthier than those living further inland.
As is usually the case, there is controversy over the strength of association between green spaces and quantifiably improved health, as well as questions about causality. Although there is clear evidence that spending time outdoors and what some call ‘forest bathing‘ improves health and wellbeing.
In a scientific culture that is doggedly committed to establishing proof, we would do well to recognize that on occasion, we may know something despite its being somewhat immeasurable in the context of our current methodology.
In the Dutch study cited at the beginning of this article, the relationship between decreased green space and increased disease was strongest for anxiety disorder and depression, and also stronger for individuals with a lower socioeconomic status. This, to me, would suggest rather obviously that beyond its impact on quantity of life, one’s living environment has a profound impact on quality of life. Perhaps we would do well to focus more of our attention on this distinction.
This post first appeared at Natural Society