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HEALTH & FITNESS
Spending time outside may boost your health
Living close to nature and spending time outside may reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, and stress, a study claims.
According to the research involving data from over 290 million people from 20 countries, populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure are more likely to report good overall health.
"Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing has not been fully understood," said Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK.
"We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost," said Twohig-Bennett, lead author of the study published in the journal Environmental Research.
The team analysed how the health of people with little access to green spaces compared to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure.
"We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration," said Twohig-Bennett.
People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people's levels of salivary cortisol - a physiological marker of stress.
Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan - with participants spending time in the forest either sitting or lying down, or just walking around.
"Although we have looked at a large body of research on the relationship between greenspace and health, we don't know exactly what it is that causes this relationship," Twohig-Bennett.
"People living near greenspace likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socialising. Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation.
"Much of the research from Japan suggests that phytoncides - organic compounds with antibacterial properties - released by trees could explain the health-boosting properties of forest bathing," said Twohig-Bennett.
"We often reach for medication when we're unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognised as both preventing and helping treat disease," said Andy Jones, a professor at UEA.
"Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact," said Jones.
The researchers hope that their findings will prompt doctors and other healthcare professionals to recommend that patients spend more time in greenspace and natural areas.
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