Do you love going for a walk in the woods, hiking up a mountain, or going for a run on a lonely country road? If you do, we’ve got some good news for you. Spending time in nature can actually benefit your overall health. A new study shows that spending time in “greenspaces” can lead to numerous health benefits. Winter may not be the best time of year to explore the great outdoors, but if the colder weather doesn’t bother you and you’re looking to unwind this holiday season, going outside can relieve your stress naturally.
When it comes to our health, exposure to nature can make all the difference in the world. Take a look at some of the surprising health benefits of spending time outdoors.
How Spending Time in Nature Can Improve Your Health
According to a new study from the University of East Anglia in the U.K., communities and populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are more likely to report good overall health than those with limited access to greenspaces. Researchers gathered data from over 140 different studies involving more than 290 million people from 20 countries, including the U.K., the U.S., Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan.
Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes as nature. For the purposes of the study, the term “greenspace” was defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery.
Based on the results, spending time in or living near greenspaces can lead to the following health benefits:
- Reduced risk of type II diabetes
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and stress
- Reduced risk of premature death and preterm birth
- Increased sleep duration
Researchers also found that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress.
What’s the Connection?
While the results of the study were clear, researchers have yet to figure out exactly why spending time in nature improves our overall health, but they have a few ideas.
One theory is that people living near or around greenspaces tend to have more opportunities for physical activity and socializing. Exercising and socializing have both been shown to reduce stress and improve overall health.
Another theory is that spending time in nature exposures the body to a diverse variety of natural bacteria, which can benefit the immune system and reduce inflammation.
More research needs to be done on the relationship between spending time in nature and our health. On a simple level, living near nature can reduce noise and light pollution, improving the quality and duration of sleep, a significant factor of our overall health. Less noise and congestion may also reduce stress levels.
Takeaways for Healthcare Providers
As a healthcare provider, you can use this information to better treat and care for your patients. The U.S. is stressed out. Studies show that at least 55% of Americans say they are stressed during the day, including 83% of U.S. workers. Due to employee stress levels and the resulting call-offs, U.S. businesses lose up to $300 billion annually. All of this added stress also causes 120,000 deaths and results in $190 billion in healthcare costs yearly.
Americans ages 30 to 49 report the highest levels of stress. Women also tend to be more stressed out than men. Minorities and people of color often report higher levels of stress compared to caucasians.
Long-term stress can affect our immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems. It can also lead to depression, digestive issues, headaches, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses.
If some of your patients are struggling with stress or suffering from poor overall health, encourage them to spend more time in nature as a natural way to relieve their stress. Patients in urban areas may be more sensitive to stress than those living in rural areas. Remember that women and people of color may face higher levels of stress than their peers.
As an employer, you can also use these ideas to improve the health of your staff. It’s been shown that 63% of U.S. workers say they are ready to quit their jobs due to stress. Healthcare workers often deal with higher levels of stress than non-healthcare employees. If one of your employees needs a break on the floor, encourage them to take a walk outside, so they can clear their mind and quickly destress on the job.
Spending time in nature is not a cure-all solution for every problem, but it can help improve your health and the health of your patients. Keep these findings in mind and embrace the power of nature.