davidGuest Blog: David Novak is a syndicated columnist, appearing in newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  His byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Readers Digest and GQ. David is a specialist at health, wellness, exercise and diet, and he is a regular contributing editor for Healthline. For more information, visit http://www.healthline.com/.

Most of us would agree that we would benefit from feeling better – more energy, less medications, a spring in our step. There are many ways we can achieve this, but one of the easiest is literally right in our backyard.

There is in fact, increasing evidence from numerous studies and research that suggests our natural environment can improve our health. Common wisdom assumes that spending time with nature ─ like walking through forests, strolling through the park, or just breathing fresh air ─ can be good for the health, thus researchers are continuously seeking further evidence to support this claim and to better understand the medicinal and therapeutic properties of nature.

Natural space provides a fundamental setting for health promotion and improved sense of well-being. Modernization may have doubled life expectancy; however, differences in ancient and modern day living may have also paved the way for the emergence of more serious diseases. That’s why scientists are looking at safe, green spaces as an effective substitute for prescription drugs in treating many physical and mental conditions.

Green environment on human health
happy_healthy_womanResearch on our natural environment as it relates to human health shows that human contact with nature has essential benefits to our social, psychological and physical health. Contact with trees and natures promotes healthier social behavior, less social dysfunction, improves resilience, alleviates stress, improves recovery from physical trauma, and even reduces mortality.

 

Benefits to children

Kid climbing treeProximity and accessibility to green spaces in residential areas increased the overall level of physical activity across all age groups, but our children can especially benefit. Based on research done at the University of Essex , a child’s development is substantially impacted by urban design and the inclusion of green space. Children’s cognitive health and learning can benefit greatly from the help of nature-based interventions, such as care farms and wilderness therapy.

There are numerous health benefits of increasing children’s outdoor free play along with incorporating access to green space.  For example, access to nature helps in reducing stress, especially for those suffering with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Outdoor recreation helps in decreasing obesity in kids, since they tend to be more active when outdoors.

Urban and Rural differences

walkingA number of studies made over the years have found that there are significant differences between those who live in the city and those who don’t. City living increases the risk of certain mental health disorders because of stresses linked to urban social environments. In a research  made by Florian Lederbogen of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, people who lived in the country had the lowest activity in their amygdalas ─ an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe, responsible for emotional reactions ─ and that those living in towns and cities had the highest level of amygdala activity. This suggests that natural spacious environments play a key role in controlling stress, and reducing the likelihood of mood and anxiety disorders. More trees is one way we can help reduce the stress of city life.

Often it’s hard to notice the everyday subtle benefits being around trees and nature. But for most people you’ll notice a positive difference in how you feel before and after a walk around the park. And even if you don’t notice it right away, the research shows that nature is helping your health in the long term. All this points to how investing in our trees and green spaces is honestly just an investment in our own health and well-being.