The Many Health Benefits of Being in Green Space for Kids and Adults

8 minute read

If you were lucky enough to be able to run and play outside on fields of grass when you were a child, you may have more than just fond memories on your side. Research shows that children who are surrounded by green space may have better mental health in their adult years.

An article published in Science News from Aarhus University states that children who grow up in greener surroundings have up to 55% less risk of developing mental disorders later in life. With the World Health Organization estimating that more than 450 million people suffer from a mental disorder, it does seem that focusing on creating the most beneficial childhood experience, one that’s full of nature, seems like a reasonable preventative measure.

The Benefits of Green Space in Childhood

A further dive into the study finds that the protective effect of living near nature longer is greater. The conclusion drawn from this is that there is a cumulative effect with the positive association. While the study could only show an association between mental problems and a lack of green space, the results are intriguing:

Less risk of substance abuse: The people who grew up near forests or parks had 52% decreased risk for substance abuse.

Stress-related problems: Having a childhood with green space seems to make people more capable of dealing with stress as they age. It was found that the risk of developing neurotic or stress-related disorders was decreased by 40%.

Other mental illness: The team out of Denmark also found that green space exposure seemed to lower the risk of personality disorders, including bipolar and mood disorders, and schizophrenia.

Enhance psychological restoration: In addition to reducing the likelihood of some mental conditions, it was stated that green space can help the brain mitigate the negative effects from stress by increasing the positive associations in the amygdala, the area of the brain in charge of emotions.

Benefits of Green Space for Adults

If you were not raised in an environment with a lot of green space, don’t fret. There are still benefits to be gleaned from spending time outside and in nature as an adult.

In an article entitled “The Importance of Greenspace for Mental Health,” a more broad approach was taken and mental health benefits were discovered for anyone, regardless of age, who got out and enjoyed nature. The benefits were still great and included:

♦ Less mental distress

♦ Less anxiety

♦ Reduced cases of depression

♦ A reported sense of greater well-being

♦ Healthier cortisol profiles

♦ Large differences in disease prevalence

The article goes on to look at people who don’t necessarily live near green space but use a natural environment for physical activity at least once per week. It found that there is about half the risk of poor mental health in these individuals as with those who do not exercise outdoors.

So even if you never had green space as a child and don’t live in the country now, you can still make an effort to get regular exercise in nature and reap the mental health benefits. It’s just one more reason in the long list of why national parks and other public conservation efforts are so important.

Using Green Space to Treat Illness

Natural stimuli, such as trees, water, and light patterns, can relieve the symptoms of mental illness and promote cognitive recovery. This means green space can be used as a treatment, and research has found that it can be beneficial in caring for people with the following mental health concerns:

♦ Stress

♦ Anxiety

♦ Depression

♦ Schizophrenia

♦ Psychosis

♦ Post-traumatic stress disorder

♦ Dementia

♦ Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder

♦ Autism

This proves that green space is not just good at preventing mental illness in the first place, it can also improve the quality of life for those people who already suffer from mental illness.

When using green space as therapy in children, it can only bolster their ability to return to green space as an adult to seek out the green therapy that worked for them in the past. Once again, showing how being exposed to green space as a child can help in adulthood.

How to Dose Yourself With Green Space

If green space exposure were a pharmaceutical there would be more information and a lot more research that could tell you when to go outside, how much time to spend in nature, and what activities will benefit you the most.

| Related: The 21-Day Walking Challenge Is Perfect for Exercise Beginners |

Unfortunately, that research has not been done yet. Until that time, you’ll need to do a little experimenting on yourself to determine what makes you feel the best and how much time outdoors you need to induce a reduction in stress levels. The following suggestions can help you get started enjoying the mental health benefits of being in nature.

Mindful exposure: One of the most important things you can do is be more mindful of nature. Whether you’re immersed in a forest or just looking at a butterfly flittering across your lawn, pay attention and appreciate on a regular basis. Volunteering to help clean up litter in parks, for example, is both fulfilling and healthy exercise.

Find nature and excuses: Whether you’re at home, visiting family, at work, or at school, go out of your way to find parks and other nature respites, then find excuses to spend time there. You can go for a walk, read a book, have a picnic, play sports; any reason to enjoy the outdoors is a good one.

Be a part of it: Take your enjoyment of nature to another level and try gardening. There is proof that the microbiome in dirt can relieve depression. You don’t have to have your own yard to garden. Try potting plants at home, joining a gardening group, or renting your own plot of a local community garden.

The Bottom Line

It seems that the more exposure children have to green space, the healthier they grow to be as adults. There is new data to support, this belief and it’s not just one area of mental health where people benefit, it’s a broad range of different mental disorders that come into play.

Fortunately, the benefits that children take with them into adulthood don’t stop there. As an adult, you can bolster your mental health by making time to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate nature, and you’ll continue to reap mental health benefits. This is one way that nature just keeps on giving.

Even people who suffer from some form of mental illness can use nature as a form of treatment and they show signs of improvement and better management of their symptoms. If you aren’t already doing it, get out and enjoy some green space and let it help you feel better.

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