Children who spend time in nature have fewer mental health problems.

 Children who spend time in nature have fewer mental health problems.

Children who spend time in nature have fewer mental health problems.
Children who spend time in nature have fewer mental health problems.

Research shows that green spaces can have a positive impact on our mental health. Children who spend time in nature may have fewer psychiatric problems.

Some studies show that just by looking at nature landscapes, we can improve our momentary outlook and reduce stress. So even if we can’t go out, just looking at the landscape photos or looking at the view outside the window can have an effect. Unless, of course, your window has a city view.

If we get these benefits just by looking at photos of nature, who knows what happens when we spend time outside.

For example, a quiet time spent 10 to 30 minutes in nature can affect the rest of the day and lower your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Compared to time spent in man-made environments, time spent in nature is linked to positive changes in blood pressure and heart rate.

Green exercise is also good for mental functioning. Children who played and walked in green spaces showed sudden, short-term improvements in their ability to focus.

Another study showed that people who walk in nature experience decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex region of their brains, which copes with negative emotions. No such change has been seen in the brain activity of people who go for a walk in the city. Therefore, there is a lot of experimental evidence to show that green spaces can improve our well-being.

Social injustice can affect the situation

But if nature is linked to better mental health outcomes, could it be because only people who live near green spaces are more likely to become wealthier people?

Wealth can protect people from all sorts of conditions that worsen mental health, and a study of cities in North America confirms that affluent city dwellers have greater access to nature.

So when researchers evaluate the associations between green space and mental health outcomes, they make statistical adjustments for the independent impact of socioeconomic factors. After all, there is evidence that green spaces do indeed have a lasting impact. Here’s a pretty striking example, a study of nearly a million children growing up in Denmark showed that children may experience fewer psychiatric problems when they grow up with plenty of green space. The study, which tracked the mental health results of nearly 940,000 people growing up in Denmark, found differences between the ten percent who lived with the highest vegetation density and the ten percent who lived with the lowest vegetation density. Children who lacked nature were more likely to develop a range of psychiatric disorders.

When socioeconomic statistics came into play, the researchers found that anorexia and bipolar disorder were not associated with lack of green space. But risk estimates for other disorders did not change much, and the positive impact of nature continued.

Large-scale research shows that living near green spaces can reduce your risk of depression. Another study on twins found that if one of the twins lived in a greener environment, they were less likely to suffer from depression. And this was true even for identical twins, who shared almost 100% of their DNA.

Their work provides evidence that green spaces have a protective effect against certain psychiatric problems, including stress-related disorders, substance abuse and depression.

This sample research is quite numerous, and most of it shows the benefit of green spaces. For this reason, spending time in nature as much as possible, even if it is at least half an hour, spending quiet time in nature can positively affect your mental health.

Individual differences should not be ignored

Some populations may react differently to the same natural features. For example, a study of more than 55,000 American children found that children with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to develop anxiety if they lived near green spaces with lots of trees. There was no such connection for children with normal development.

Bibliography: Golding SE, Gatersleben B, Cropley M. 2018. An Experimental Exploration of the Effects of Exposure to Images of Nature on Rumination. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 15(2)

Park et al 2010; Berto 2014; van den berg et al 2015; Hunter et al 2019

Tsunetsugu Y, Park BJ, Miyazaki Y. 2010. Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku” (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan. Environ Health Prev Med. 15(1):27-37

Larson LR, Barger B, Ogletree S, Torquati J, Rosenberg S, Gaither CJ, Bartz JM, Gardner A, Moody E, Schutte A. 2018. Proximity to gray area and green space is associated with higher anxiety in young people with autism. Place of Health. 53:94-102.