Feb. 6, 2023 – City dwellers who visited parks, community gardens, or other green spaces often were less likely to need medications for depression, high blood pressure, or asthma than those who did not, a new study from Finland shows.
The link between frequent green space visits and a lower use of these drugs did not depend on household income level or other social or economic factors, although obesity did seem to cancel the benefits of frequently being outdoors in nature.
The growing scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of exposure to nature is likely to make more high-quality green spaces available in urban environments, and promote the use of these spaces, says lead author, Anu W. Turunen, PhD, from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare in Kuopio, Finland.
The findings were published online Jan. 16 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Researchers asked 7,321 randomly selected residents of three large urban centers in Finland – Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa – about how often they went to green spaces and blue spaces (bodies of water) within 1 kilometer of their home, and also if they could see green or blue spaces from any windows of their home.
Green areas were defined as forests, gardens, parks, castle parks, cemeteries, zoos, grasslands, moors, and wetlands. Blue areas were defined as seas, lakes, and rivers.
People surveyed were also asked if they were taking any drugs for anxiety, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, and asthma.
Compared to the people who went to green spaces the least, those who visited the most often were about one-third less likely to need one of these medications.
Specifically, those who reported visiting a green space three to four times per week had 33% lower odds of using mental health meds, 36% lower odds of using blood pressure meds, and 26% lower odds of using asthma medications.
“These results are important because they add to the growing body of evidence showing that being close to nature is good for our patients’ health,” says Jochem Klompmaker, PhD, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, who was not involved with this research but has done work in this area.
“We should encourage our patients to take more walks, and if they live near a park, that could be a good place to start to be more physically active and reduce stress levels,” he says.