Living near nature may be the secret to a longer life and better mental health

Living close to nature is found to impact one's mood, health and well-being, according to several studies. Getty Images

Springtime is here and after what seems to have been a long and sluggish winter hibernation, people are ready for lush green scenery.

It also means people are ready to hit the trails, plant their gardens and soak in all of the vitamin D they can get.

There are many ways in which nature inspires people to get active and be healthy, as well as improve their overall well-being.

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One study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public and Bringham and Women’s Hospital found that women, in particular, may live longer and improve their mental health if they live in — or near — green spaces.

Researchers looked at over 108,000 women in the U.S. enrolled in a nurse’s health study between 2000 and 2008 and compared their risk of death with the amount of greenery (plants and vegetation) near their homes.

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According to the results, women who lived in areas with the most greenery had a 12 per cent lower death rate compared to those who lived in areas with little greenery.

When looking at specific causes of death, the study found that women near nature had a 41 per cent lower death rate for kidney disease, a 34 per cent lower death rate for respiratory disease and a 13 per cent lower death rate for cancer.

Women also reported a 30 per cent improvement with their mental health.

“We were surprised to see that there was a 12 per cent lower rate of mortality,” study author Peter James told CNN. “We know already that vegetation can help mitigate the effect of climate change. Our study suggests the potential co-benefit for health.”

And even though men were not commissioned for the study, James and his research team believe the findings would be similar for men.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that looks at residence-based exposure conducted across a broad geographic range, across the entire United States,” James said. “I want to point out that 84 per cent of study participants live in urban areas. We are not saying you need to live near a park.”

If anything, James hopes the results from the study will inform policymakers, city planners and architects and encourage them to create more healthy and sustainable neighbourhoods.

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But would better city planning and more greenery actually make a difference?

Researchers at the University of York and Edinburgh seem to think so.

According to a study the university published last week, researchers found that walking between busy urban streets and green spaces triggers changes in excitement, engagement and frustration levels in the brains of people over 65 years of age.

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“There are concerns about mental well-being as the global population becomes older and more urbanized,” study author Dr. Chris Neale said in a press release statement. “Urban green space has a role to play in contributing to a supportive city environment for older people through mediating the stress induced by built up settings.”

The study looks at mobility, mood and place and the role of the urban environment and how it can help promote lifelong health and well-being. Researchers at the university wanted to understand how older people react to, and experience, different urban environments.

And researchers found that when the subjects walked through green spaces, their feelings were more positive than when they were walking through urban areas.

But it isn’t just the colour green that comes with benefits. Living near blue spaces (i.e. water) is also known to reduce stress and improve well-being, according to a study published in the journal Health & Place last year.

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However, the study did not find the same connection with green spaces.

The team speculates that this may be because blue spaces tend to be all natural, while green spaces often include human-made areas like playgrounds. They do acknowledge, though, that the results may be different if they were to look at all-natural native forests.