The Benefits of Green Space

by Stephen Mills on May 24, 2011

Living in hi-density urban environments is obviously good for the environment.  If we all tried to live in the woods there would be no woods left.  But are these urban environments good for us?

I’ve always felt restored and calmed by simply exposing myself to the natural environment.  In addition there have been a number of studies that link amounts and types of green space to all kinds of physical and mental health benefits.

You have to be careful when interpreting the results of studies because there could other confounding factors; see my article Common Thinking Traps – Correlation and Causation.  But I think there is enough accumulating evidence to draw a reasonable conclusion that natural environments may benefit us in some significant ways.

Here is a sampling of some of the studies.

Our brains identify and categorize natural settings almost instantly and far faster than artificial settings.  Natural settings are clearly programmed into our brains in some fashion so it shouldn’t be surprising they have some beneficial effect on us.

A Dutch study found a significant correlation between the amount of green space within a 3 km radius and the number of reported health issues.  This study was controlled for age, gender, education, income, and urbanity.

Several studies of hospital patients have shown reduced need for pain medicine and shorter recovery times for those with views of or access to natural scenes.

Study subjects were given difficult cognitive tests that required focused attention.  Half of the subjects were then sent on a walk down a busy city street.  The other half were sent on a walk in a secluded green space.  All of them returned for more testing and those who walked in the green space performed far better on subsequent testing.  They obviously were more restored by nature than those who had to navigate the city street.  However, I would be curious as to a comparison between walking in nature and simply relaxing or meditating.  In any case it is clear if you want to get the health benefit of a walk, it is far better to walk in a park than down a city street.

Workers in an office were exposed to low-level stress that increased heart rate.  The subjects were then measured on how long it took them to calm down.  Those workers who had an actual view of a natural setting through a window calmed down faster than those with a fake view (HDTV displaying natural setting) or no view at all.  Interestingly, those workers with the fake view had a higher sense of well-being than those without just a blank wall.  So evidently fake nature is better than nothing, but not as good as the real thing.

Some early experiments in using virtual reality to simulate nature seems to provide evidence that it can provide similar benefits to the real thing.

Why do we like to go to the zoo?  Why are nature shows popular (although clearly not popular enough in my view)?   Why do many people like to go camping?  If you’ve ever been to a national park on a holiday you will know that they are very popular destinations.  There is clearly something that draws us to wild animals and natural settings.

Conclusion

I find nature and natural settings extremely restorative and I head for them often when I’m feeling stressed or need a break.  I would recommend that everyone give it a try.  Of course this is just anecdotal evidence from my personal experience and doesn’t prove anything.  However a number of studies and probably many which I’m unaware of are showing that there probably is indeed real beneficial physiological effects from being exposed to natural environments (even artificially created natural environments like urban parks and green spaces).

I also suspect that the more natural the better.  Our brains are probably better tuned somehow to the patterns nature creates as opposed to overly planned landscapes.  I certainly find natural forests more restorative than a sculpted park.   However, there is evidence that viewing pictures, HDTV, and immersive virtual reality can also help.

So the bottom line seems to be to surround yourself with as much natural scenery as possible and expose yourself to natural environments as frequently as possible.  I’m not aware of studies with indoor plants but I’ll bet they make a difference too.  None of this can hurt and it might just help make you healthier and more relaxed.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

van025 May 25, 2011 at 3:44 am

I really really love green space so much because I can feel comfortable and pleasant to live on it
van025´s last blog post ..240 SF COLOR OUTDOOR CAMPING TENT PUZZLE FOAM PLAY MAT

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Daniel M. Wood May 27, 2011 at 9:42 am

I am very glad to live in Scandinavia, we have green area all over. Even though I live in Oslo, the third largest city in all of Scandinavia I can walk 10 minutes and be in a park, a wood or by a stream.

It is great.
We do need to connect with nature some times.
Daniel M. Wood´s last blog post ..50 Motivational Thoughts

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Sanjana Koli June 1, 2011 at 1:08 am

Daniel M.Wood I am also from kashmir heaven of green area all over the world.And its the great pleasure for walking in green area specially in rainfall when green area become more clear and more beautiful.
Sanjana Koli´s last blog post ..Dietary Tips for IBS

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga May 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

This is so very true Stephen. I wish I knew the reasons behind it, but I don’t. All I know is that, nature restores and rejuvenates me. When I wake up feeling crappy, the first thing that I do (before showering, brushing my teeth, or anything) is to raise the blinds.

Through every window I can beautiful trees, wind blowing the leaves & branches, sun shining on blooming flowers, birds and squirrels doing their thing. I love it. Sometimes I just sit there for a moment with my eyes closed, listening to the bird’s songs. It’s a wonderful way to turn the day around.

The only problem… I notice a significant difference in the effect of this process on dark, rainy or stormy days. Shining sunlight seems to be the most critical factor in nature-healing for me.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..So You Think You Don’t Have Anger Issues

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lusiana158 June 2, 2011 at 1:45 am

I totally agree with idea that Living in hi-density urban environments is obviously good for the environment.Thank for your post
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Petra June 2, 2011 at 6:11 am

Yeah urban environment is better for human than living on trees or in woods, no doubt that it works in both sides 😉
Petra´s last blog post ..Tramadol for dogs before vet effects

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R June 7, 2011 at 10:13 am

Ha! My friend thought I was crazy to use green on my work desktop background to sooth my mind…guess its not so crazy after all? lol
R´s last blog post ..What does wealth mean to you

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Law Of Attraction June 30, 2011 at 11:47 am

Hi Stephen,

I feel very blessed that I live In Croatia, where you’re never too far from a forest or at least a large park with lots of trees. And I definitely agree that there is a lot of things out there that clearly indicate the correlation between better health, increased intellectual capacity & seeing lots of green thing 🙂

Thank you for a great post!

Josip Barbaric
Law Of Attraction´s last blog post ..Affirmations & Their Power To Affect Positive Change

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manish2010 July 2, 2011 at 9:27 am

Hey Stephen !
I really admire and appreciate your thoughts,Your research is so clear and loud….It is very much true that a nature is an automatic healer of a humanbeing.No doubt that an urban environments are very much good and beneficial for our health and mental peace.Thank you for sharing such an informative content with us.
God Bless
manish2010´s last blog post ..Outdoor Kitchen Equipment

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Ron August 9, 2011 at 3:25 am

If you notice, people having sickness can easily be healed by just exposing them to the nature and inhale the fresh air needed by the body. If I would choose to live I will choose to stay in the place where there are lots of trees and plants and its very green to look at.
Ron´s last blog post ..How to Hide Man Boobs

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yaniv August 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Stephen i read your post and i want to tell you that your Conclusion is right we are part of the nature not out of it like many thinks only in the 200 years the world have change dramaticly we were connected to the ground with out asphalt and concrete and no air pollution so when we go out to nature with out the regular urban noise we feel much better

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sandeep @ Free Animation tutorials September 29, 2011 at 4:37 am

you are right stephen.now generation nature is totally disable from earth,all over only buildings and traffics.i think after 40 50 years what will be the condition of earth..
praying from god help in protecting nature.
sandeep @ Free Animation tutorials´s last blog post ..ZBrush Tutorial – ZSpheres

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Sheryl @ Women's health blog October 4, 2011 at 2:15 am

Yes, you’re right. Having healthy environment can improve our live quality and decrease stress rate when working.. Ah, wondering if my country is have a green environment…
Sheryl @ Women’s health blog´s last blog post ..Women Health Blog

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