Parks and green spaces in cities have been around almost as long as the concept of cities. Once people started gathering together and society changed from a farming focus to an industrial focus in the 1800s, small, green oases were prized and preserved as the cities grew in population and business expanded. Even before extensive scientific research regarding the multitude of health benefits, city planners understood the importance of protecting nature amid development. Not only for the benefit of the ecosystem but the health of the city dwellers as well.
So what exactly are the benefits of urban green spaces, and how can you get your daily dose of nature while living in a concrete jungle? Read on to find out.
Benefits of greenspaces
Can reduce premature death
Though it may seem like an extravagant claim, recent research supports the idea that green spaces in urban environments can help reduce the risk of early death. Researchers “identified nine cohort studies worldwide that included over eight million individuals in total, from seven different countries (Canada, United States, Spain, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, and China).
The meta-analysis of these studies found that an increment in greenness around homes is significantly associated with reduced premature mortality. More specifically, the study provides an estimate for the protective effect: a 4% reduction in premature mortality per each increment of 0.1 in vegetation score, within 500 meters of the residence.
‘This is the largest and most comprehensive synthesis to date on green space and premature mortality’, says David Rojas, researcher at ISGlobal and Colorado State University and first author of the study, ‘and the results support interventions and policies to increase green spaces as a strategy to improve public health’. Furthermore, this study ‘provides important information that can already be used in future Health Impact Assessment (HIA) studies’, explains Rojas.”
Can boost mental health
Urban green spaces such as parks, sports fields, woods, and lakesides can actually boost mental health and help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Simply spending time in a place with living things (even just grass) is a great way to get reconnected with the earth and improve your mood. Studies have shown that “Individuals have less mental distress, less anxiety and depression, greater wellbeing and healthier cortisol profiles when living in urban areas with more green space compared with less green space.”
Plus, when you take a quiet moment away from the hustle and bustle of the city, you will experience a decrease in stress, and you will be more equipped to handle the business of your day without being overwhelmed by so many stimuli. It can increase happiness, boost creativity, and even reduce mental fatigue as well.
Can improve physical health
Naturally, people are more apt to exercise when they have convenient, accessible places to do so. Someone who might not spend money on a gym membership might be more likely to get out for a walk around the park every evening or go jogging on the trail around the lake. Studies show that public green spaces encourage people to get out more and spend time in lifesaving physical activity.
May improve biodiversity and reduce pollution
Cities with a good walkability score have lower levels of fossil fuel pollution and are more likely to support a healthy, physical lifestyle. When you have easy access to a park, you can take your bike or walk instead of driving, which cuts down on the emissions in the air, a critical consideration for densely-populated cities. Research also shows that urban green spaces provide important ecological benefits by “increasing wildlife habitat supporting biodiversity in urbanized areas.”
Remember, you don’t get any benefit from green space if you don’t spend time in it. Seek out your local parks, lakes, woods, and nature trails. Be sure to spread the word about your favorite spots and encourage your friends and family to walk in nature as well. The more that parks and trails like these are used in cities, and the more that people work to protect them, the more that government resources will be allocated towards improving and expanding them. Also, urban greenspaces are amazing but try taking a trip outside the city every once in a while to reconnect with the natural world. Go camping, hiking, or simply find a quiet place to sit and watch the sunset. Trust us, you’ll love it.
-The UpWellness Team