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Nature as a healer

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One study from The University of Exeter Medical School in England looked at the mental health data of 10,000 city dwellers and used mapping to track where the subjects had lived over the past 18 years. The findings suggested that people living near urban green space reported less mental distress. A second study from 2009, found a lower incidence of 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines in people who lived within a half mile of green space.

Another study compared a 50-minute walk in a city environment to a nature walk. A nature walk decreased the activity in an area of the brain linked to the risk of mental illness. Nature walks have also been found to reduce rumination – the negative thoughts that people return to over and over, which will be familiar to anyone suffering from anxiety.

With this knowledge, doctors are increasingly prescribing trips to the park for a range of conditions, including anxiety, depression and stress. In some countries, “exposure to nature” is a core component of therapy and it’s even spawning new fields like ecopsychology.

This growing body of evidence shows that time spent outdoors can:

  • reduce stress levels
  • lessen symptoms of depression
  • reduce anxiety
  • lower blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension
  • lower production of stress hormones such as cortisol.