Nature is medicine, doctors say
Numerous studies tout healing power of time outdoors
Perhaps the next prescription from your doctor will be for something a little different: contact with nature.
Many studies have looked at the positive impact of nature on emotional and physical health. Some research has suggested that we are genetically hard-wired to seek green surroundings for our health and well-being.
What are some health benefits of contact with nature and greenery?
Here are surprising findings from studies over the past few years:
- Green environments improve mental acuity. Children who play in playgrounds seem to have higher scores for attention than those who play on asphalt. In a study of 96 children diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, the greener the play area, the better the concentration and mental functioning.
- Green environments reduce aggression and crime. A 2001 study showed that housing blocks in Chicago with high levels of greenery had about 50 percent fewer property and violent crimes, compared with housing areas with little vegetation.
- Green environments reduce stress, depression and anxiety. A 2005 study in Sweden found that the more often one visits green areas, the less often one reports stress-related sickness. Other studies have shown that doing exercise in nature reduces depression and anxiety in adults.
- Green environments improve the functioning of the body's immune system. A 2007 study in Japan showed that a three-day exposure to nature increased the body's natural "killer cells" by 50 percent. A 2008 study showed that enhanced activity of white blood cells lasted more than a week after exposure to nature.
- Green environments lower blood pressure. In a study this year of 280 people in Japan, scientists found that walking through a forest or other wooded area for a few hours lowered concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, lowered the pulse rate and lowered blood pressure.
- Green environments make one feel healthy. A 2006 epidemiological study in the Netherlands on more than 250,000 people showed that the percentage of green space in a living environment has a positive association with residents' perceived general health. This was most apparent among the elderly, housewives and lower socioeconomic groups.
In fact, the Japanese have a name for exposure to greenery, "Shinrin-yoku" — roughly translating as taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing. We think this is a great prescription for overall good health and should be taken often.
So go ahead and take one Shinrin-yoku and call us in the morning.
Drs. Kay Judge and Maxine Barish-Wreden are medical directors of Sutter Downtown Integrative Medicine program in Sacramento, Calif.
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation. Please check our Community Rules for more information. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form. New comments are only accepted for two weeks from the date of publication.