Reduced risk of early death
The health effects of green space are wide-ranging, and studies that can’t prove cause-and-effect still show strong associations between access to nature and longer, healthier lives.
“The percentage of green space in people’s living environment has a positive association with the perceived general health of residents,” concluded a Dutch study of 250,782 people.
Nearby green space was even more important to health in urban environments, the researchers found. In fact, they wrote, “our analyses show that health differences in residents of urban and rural municipalities are to a large extent explained by the amount of green space.”
A follow-up study by the same research team relied on mortality assessed by physicians and found that a wide variety of diseases were less prevalent among people who lived in close proximity to green space. Other studies have made a direct link between time spent in forests and other measures of overall health.
A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives found a similar connection, finding about a 12% lower mortality rate, with the biggest improvements related to reduced risk of death from cancer, lung disease, or kidney disease.
Why the connection? Researchers point to “recovery from stress and attention fatigue, encouragement of physical activity, facilitation of social contact and better air quality” as well as nature’s positive effect on mental health, which would boost overall health and longevity as well.
Sources: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2006; Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2009; Biomedical and Environmental Sciences, 2012; Environmental Health Perspectives, 2016