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Spending time outside is good for you
July 24, 2018, 11:20 am
Health experts have been advising us to spend more time outside for ages. This lifestyle recommendation got a new boost last week with researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK releasing a new report that shows exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress and high blood pressure.
For the study, ‘green space’ was defined as any open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation, as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery. The team analyzed how the health of people with little access to green spaces compared to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure.
The study found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces was associated with diverse and significant health benefits. The researchers found that exposure to greenspace also significantly reduced people’s level of salivary cortisol — a psychological marker of stress. The data derived from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people from 20 countries, including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, Japan and the US, also revealed that populations with higher levels of greenspace exposure were more likely to report good overall health over the long-term.
In Japan, a therapy that is increasingly gaining popularity is ‘forest bathing’, which involves participants spending time in forests or other large greenspaces, either sitting or lying down, or just walking around. Researchers admitted that they had no specific idea as to why greenspaces were beneficial to overall health. Researchers believe that people living near greenspace likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socializing, or the exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation in humans.
Research from Japan suggests that phytoncides — organic compounds with antibacterial properties — released by trees could explain the healthboosting properties of forest bathing. We often reach for medication when we are unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized as both preventing and helping treat disease.
Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact, said a member of the research team. He added, “We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves. Hopefully our results will encourage policymakers and town planners to invest in the creation, regeneration, and maintenance of parks and greenspaces, particularly in urban residential areas and deprived communities that could benefit the most.” 
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