When deciding on where to live, people often consider the safety of the neighbourhood, proximity to work/school/groceries/etc, easy commutes, convenience of transportation, and so on. However, a growing body of research is looking at another important lifestyle factor for optimal health and quality of life: the amount of surrounding green and blue space.
Green space refers to areas of concentrated plant life, like parks, gardens, forests and trees lining a street. Blue space refers to bodies of water like lakes, streams and oceans.
Our “green and blue time” is becoming progressively more important as urbanization continues to push forward.
"We must find a balance between our connection with nature & the convenience of an urban lifestyle."
Through this article, we will explore the positive health benefits of natural environments on your immune system, mood, stress levels, and family health.
WALKING THROUGH THE FOREST CAN BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM.
In Japan, there have been numerous studies on the immune boosting effect of certain plant-derived airborne chemicals called phytoncides. These antimicrobial phytoncides are released by trees to help protect them against certain viruses, bacteria and fungi. When we walk through the mist of phytoncides, we also receive this natural antimicrobial protection.
The air within natural environments is also filled with helpful microbes, which help to rebuild and strengthen our own microcosm of beneficial skin flora to protect against disease.
NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS HELP BALANCE YOUR MOOD AND REDUCE STRESS.
Most people experience the relaxing effect of nature while going for a walk through the forest or along the ocean, it just makes you feel good. This is because nature promotes feelings of positivity and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Green spaces have been shown to lower cortisol levels and increase parasympathetic nerve activity. Cortisol is your stress hormone, it gets released during stressful events to get you ready to run for your life. The Parasympathetic nervous system is your “rest and digest” mode, it calms the mind and body down to prepare for meals, rest and sleep. Lowering cortisol and increasing parasympathetic activity can help reduce anxiety, lower stress, balance blood pressure, and turn off mental chatter and rumination.
GREEN SPACES PROMOTE HEALTHIER PREGNANCIES AND IMPROVE CHILDREN’S MENTAL HEALTH.
Nature's effect on stress reduction, as discussed earlier, has a very positive effect on pregnancy outcomes. While under stress, blood is shunted away from your major abdominal organs towards the muscles of your arms and legs to get ready to “fight or flight”. By lowering stress, you are ensuring that you and your baby are getting the optimal delivery of oxygen and nutrients needed. Studies have also shown a positive correlation between increased exposure to green spaces and healthier newborn birthweight.
Nature also provides a calming effect on children. Increased exposure to urban green spaces and beaches has been shown to decrease the potential of children developing ADD/ADHD, and reduce behavioural, emotional and social difficulties in children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.
I hope this information will encourage you to get out in nature more often. Whether it’s walking through a tree-lined street, visiting your neighbour’s garden or walking along the beach, you and your family’s health will benefit from it.
Author: Dr. Fiona Smulders, ND