As our society becomes increasingly technologically advanced
and more and more of us are “plugged in,” we can easily lose touch with the
benefits of the simple activity of being outside and enjoying nature. This becomes even more of a
challenge when the areas we live and work in are highly urbanized and our time
spent in nature becomes less and less. We may be so busy that we don’t even
notice the growing lack of green space around us and some of the negative health consequences we may be experiencing because of this decline. What are the health
benefits of spending time outside and how can we better incorporate this into
our busy lives?
Definition of a Green Space
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
green space is defined as any space that is partly or completely covered with
grass, trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. Green space includes parks,
community gardens, and cemeteries. Typically, urban environments tend to be
somewhat void of the above listed attributes, while suburban and country areas
typically contain more green space.
Physical Health Benefits of Green Space
- Urban green spaces encourage exercise and are a more restorative environment than indoor settings
- Green spaces offer a free, accessible, public environment in which to exercise and play to those who cannot afford a private gym membership.
- Having plants within view of workstations decreasesoth illness incidence and the amount of self-reported sick leave
- Green spaces provide necessary places and opportunities for physical activity. Exercise improves cognitive function, learning, and memory.
Also, individuals are more likely to exercise if:
- Walking trails, parks and gyms are accessible
- Sidewalks are present and scenery is enjoyable
This short video documents how the health of a community is in part determined by its access to green space and how much the neighborhood you live in affects your overall health and well-being
Mental Health Benefits of Green Space
- Stress recovery is faster when viewing nature
- Many studies connect urban park use to decreased stress levels and improved moods. In one study, the longer participants stayed in a park, the less stress they exhibited.
- Researchers found that 71% of people found a reduction in depression after going on an outdoor walk versus a 45% reduction by those who went on an indoor walk.
- Brief glimpses of natural elements improve brain performance by providing a cognitive break from the complex demands of urban life.
How to Bring More Green into Your Work Routine
- Take frequent walks outside, weather permitting
- Adorn your office or cubicle with live plants or flowers
- Encourage co-workers to keep plants in their offices as well
- Bike or walk to work
- Suggest holding meetings at a nearby park
- Eat lunch outside
1Grinde, B., and G.G. Patil. 2009. Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 6, 9: 2332-343.
2 Pretty, J., R. Hine, and J. Peacock. 2006. Green Exercise: The Benefits of Activities in Green Places. Biologist 53, 3: 143-48.
3 Kaplan, S. 1995. The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward An Integrative Framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology 15, 3: 169-182.
4Bringslimark, T., T. Hartig, and G.G. Patil. 2007. Psychological Benefits of Indoor Plants in Workplaces: Putting Experimental Results Into Context. Hortscience 42, 3: 581-87.
5 Grahn, P., and U.K. Stigsdotter. 2010. The Relation Between Perceived Sensory Dimensions of Urban Green Space and Stress Restoration. Landscape and Urban Planning 94, 3-4: 264-275
⁶ Burls, A. 2007. People and Green Spaces: Promoting Public Health and Mental Well-Being Through Ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health 6, 3: 24-39.