• Robb G. Best

Get Yourself to a Green Space!

Parks and nature preserves: they're not just for taking a jog or walking your dog. Visiting green spaces yields real benefits for the brain. Let's take a look at three of the ways it can help us to go outdoors and enjoy somewhere a little wild.

1. Fight stress

While many of us have anecdotal evidence of, for instance, standing by a shoreline, listening to the sounds of the waves and just feeling a little better, now there is research to support the phenomenon.

A group of interdisciplinary researchers at Cornell University has found that exposure to the natural world can boost mood and counteract both physical and mental stress. The research is part of a larger examination of "nature therapy," with a larger goal of figuring out how to find a "dosage" of nature that doctors can prescribe as a preventative against anxiety, depression, stress, and other student health issues.

Looking at subjects age 15 to 30, the researchers found that spending 10 to 50 minutes outdoors in a natural space was most effective in improving mood, focus, and even health markers like blood pressure and heart rate.

2. Possibly counteract some of the dangers of urban living

Bad news for city-dwellers: researchers from the University of British Columbia have found that living within 50 meters (about 160 feet) of a major road is associated with higher risks of a variety of negative health outcomes, including dementia, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and MS. This seems to be a side effect of the increased air pollution.

“The good news," says lead author Weiran Yuchi, "is that green spaces appear to have some protective effects in reducing the risk of developing one or more of these disorders. More research is needed, but our findings do suggest that urban planning efforts to increase accessibility to green spaces and to reduce motor vehicle traffic would be beneficial for neurological health.”

3. Reduce crime (maybe)

Here's the really surprising result. In a study initiated at Cornell University, a team of scientists suggest that well-designed green spaces in cities can lower the rate of violent crime.

The team looked at 45 studies to examine the possible relationship between violence and green spaces. They found that while poorly-designed green spaces can actually increase crime, overall more studies came to the conclusion that availability of green spaces, including parks and community gardens, caused a decrease in criminal activity. For example, they located 9 studies on the effects of green space on gun violence, 6 of which suggested that green space had a beneficial effect (the other three were inconclusive).

“There are definitely patterns," said Hessam Sadatsafavi, PhD, of the School of Medicine.

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