A recently published study from Finland has found that spending more time in green spaces may improve the health of people living in cities and dense urban areas.
Researchers found lower use of drugs for depression, anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure, and asthma among urban residents who often visit green spaces, regardless of their income or level of education.
The Finnish research team said that the frequency of visits to urban green spaces, rather than simply viewing them from your house, was key.
Researchers looked at the number of green spaces and water bodies within a community, then compared those to both the frequency of visits and the views of such spaces from home, to see if they were separately associated with the use of certain prescription medications.
They chose prescription medications as a proxy for ill health and those for anxiety and insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, and asthma, in particular, because they are used to treat common and potentially serious health issues.
16 000 randomly selected residents of Helsinki, Espoo, and Vanta were surveyed on how city dwellers over the age of 25 experience residential green and blue spaces within a one-kilometre radius of homes.
Participants were also asked to report their use of prescribed medication for periods ranging from within the week, past year, or never.
They were also asked how often they spent time or exercised outdoors, in green spaces, during May and September, with options ranging from never to five or more times a week.
Participants reported whether they could see green or blue spaces from any of their windows at home, and if so, how often they took in those views, with options ranging from seldom to often.
The findings, published last month in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that neither the number of green/blue spaces nearby nor views of them through a window was associated with the use of the studied medications.
Compared with less than one weekly visit, visiting three or four times weekly was associated with 33% lower odds of using mental health medications, 36% lower odds of using blood pressure medications, and 26% lower odds of using asthma medications.
“The effects of visiting green spaces were stronger among those reporting the lowest annual household income,” said senior researcher Dr Anu Turunen.
“But overall, the associations found did not depend on household income and educational attainment.
“These observed associations were weakened when weight was factored in, particularly for asthma medications, as obesity is a known risk factor for asthma,” added Turunen, of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
Finnish cities are relatively green, making it easy for those willing to use green spaces to access them with minimal effort.
“Mounting scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of nature exposure is likely to increase the supply of quality green spaces in urban environments and promote their active use.
“This might be one way to improve health and welfare in cities,” Turunen said.