While Americans have watched efforts to improve our natural healthcare system stall (and that’s as much as I care to mention about politics, I promise), I ran across a new European study offering great advice on something we can all do to improve our health right now.
Plant a tree.
People living in European nations face a lot of the same health problems we do in the United States: obesity, mental health disorders, and negative effects from pollution. On top of this is the stress and impact of living in our typical urban environments in cities.
A team of researchers at the Institute for European Environmental Policy spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies on health outcomes to see if there were common findings and recommendations. It is no surprise to learn the evidence is clear: when people have access to nature, they are healthier.
I don’t normally like to rattle off statistics, but when you start going down the list it hits you how powerful and how strong these findings. No fake news here.
· In Denmark, people living more than one kilometer (five-eights of one mile) from green space were more likely to be obese and less likely to exercise than people living within 300 meters.
· Middle aged men in Scotland living in urban areas with large amounts of green space have a 16 percent lower risk of dying compared with similar groups living in areas with less green space.
· Doctors prescribe fewer anti-depressants in urban areas when there are more trees on the streets.
· People recovering from stress-related mental health issues and mild to moderate depression reduced their need for primary health care by 28 percent and their hospitalization rate by 64 percent when they participated in a nature therapy program at a Swedish rehabilitation garden.
What researchers also noted over and over is that the negative effects have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged groups of people, especially minority groups and low-income populations. On the plus side, the positive effects of access to nature help people of all ages and at all levels of mental and physical health. There isn’t anyone who can’t benefit from what my friend and colleague Richard Louv calls Vitamin N as in Nature.
So what can we do with this information? It is a little overwhelming to tackle the political process to say nothing of the realities of development more parks in our communities. So start smaller and make important small changes to bring more nature into your life.
· Incorporate nature (plants!) into your home and at work if possible and increase your access where you can.
· If you can’t bring nature to you in the form of plants and gardens, go find it.
For instance, take more walking breaks outside instead of coffee breaks inside.
· Find and encourage activities for your kids involving nature instead of a video screen on a phone or tablet.
· Support a local environmental organization.
· Support a municipal or nonprofit garden. We are fortunate in San Diego County to have many good ones. You can’t go wrong with your choice.
· Attend a class or talk on nature or gardening.
· Buy Richard Louv’s 2016 book “Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich Your Family’s Health & Happiness.” It might be the healthiest $15.95 you will ever spend. Richard gives you several ways to get a copy including an eBook. I hope your publisher uses recycled paper, Richard!
It is important to support the bigger picture issues. Pay attention to land-use decisions in your neighborhood. Let elected officials know these things matter to you when you vote, and then vote and make it stick. Write a letter or show up at a meeting.
And save April 29 on your calendar. I’ll tell you why in next week’s blog post. Don’t miss it!