Numerous studies show that humans spend around a large percentage of their time indoors and the majority of the remaining time in their cars. Medical and mental health communities across the globe recognize the health benefits of spending more time outdoors and in green spaces. People who do notice feel better afterward, both physically and mentally.
What Are Green Spaces?
The definition of green spaces continually evolves. Most experts agree that green space is undeveloped land in urban areas, covered with grass, shrubs, trees, and other vegetation. These outdoor areas are aesthetically pleasing and also provide room for people to enjoy both active and passive recreation. Community parks, gardens, and college campuses are examples of green spaces in cities. The quality of green spaces is more important than the number of green spaces in a community.
Other Ways to Experience Nature
National and state parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and conservation areas are also places where people go to seek the benefits of being close to nature. Exploring new outdoor surroundings boosts self-esteem, improves mood, and stimulates memory. Studies show that diverse vegetation and wildlife in these areas have a positive mental health impact.
20 Minutes Per Day
A 2019 study showed that people do not need to spend extended time outdoors to reap its benefits. Researchers found that a 20-minute visit to a park or other outdoor space improved general satisfaction and well-being. The results were similar between those who engaged in physical exercise in these outdoor spaces and those who simply relaxed in them.
Over the past 10 years, researchers have focused on the effects of insufficient green spaces in urban areas. These studies show that increasing the number of green spaces decreases environmental hazards, improves air quality, and helps reduce noise pollution. Regular access to quality green spaces helps individuals build a stronger immune system. It can also decrease the severity of a wide range of medical conditions, many of which lead to premature mortality.
Improves Mental Health
Because nature is not demanding of a person’s attention, areas like green spaces can help relieve mental fatigue and restore their ability to focus. Spending time in green spaces promotes mental health by reducing stress and anxiety levels. It can lower the severity of depressive symptoms and other psychological issues.
Numerous studies have found that the sun’s rays provide essential ultraviolet B, which the skin uses to produce vitamin D to keep bones healthy. In a 2017 study, researchers found that 10 to 20 minutes of outdoor sunlight in the spring or summer is enough. However, the winter months are more challenging. They say it requires two hours of sunlight each day to receive an optimal dose.
The practice of Shinrin-yoku — forest therapy or forest bathing — is a Japanese practice that emerged in the 1980s. In this psychological and physiological exercise, the person takes in the sights, sounds, and smells of their outdoor surroundings. Forest bathing is akin to mindfulness — being present in a place without judgment or specific intentions. Studies show that forest therapy not only reduces cortisol levels but lowers blood pressure and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Green Exercise Environments
Outdoor environments can motivate individuals to become more active. Experts say there is a synergistic connection between exercise and the outdoors. This connection could be an important tool to fight the growing problem of physical inactivity, an issue that increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.
Fosters Social Interactions
Green spaces nurture feelings of community and belonging and a sense of place. Shared outdoor spaces encourage individuals to establish friendly, positive relationships and a sense of trust. They also facilitate social networking. Researchers found that areas with shortages of green spaces lined up with more reports of feeling lonely and lacking social support.
Barriers to Green Spaces
The majority of the world’s population spends between 90 and 98% of their time indoors, depending on the season. Global pandemics, heat waves, and severe weather events cause people to spend less time outdoors and more time in closed environments, such as their homes. Studies show that unsafe, unclean, or undesirable conditions in green spaces are common barriers that prevent the community from enjoying these areas.