Everyone knows that spending time outside is “good for you,” but how many of us know exactly how much time we need to spend outside, or what type of outside areas (beaches, forests, or parks) would achieve the most health benefits?
As urban areas attempt to incorporate more green space (think the High Line in New York City), public health experts are attempting to nail down the characteristics of these areas that have the most population-wide benefit. A recent study published in Nature examined the relationship between the duration of exposure to green space and public health outcomes such as mental health, physical health, and social health.
The study found that with 30 minutes per week spent in a green area people had reduced rates of depression. This was dose-dependent up to 1 hour and 15 minutes (meaning that increased durations were associated with decreased depression). The mental health benefits were present regardless of the intensity of the green space (i.e. low versus high vegetation complexity). This article estimated there would be a 7% reduction in depression prevalence for the population if every person achieved this minimum time.
The point here is short and sweet; get outside and spend some time in a green space (however you define it). It’s good for you!
As an aside, I found the idea that vegetation complexity could influence the magnitude of mental health benefits pretty fascinating. Apparently, vegetation complexity may mediate this through increased feelings of restoration (i.e. higher levels of plant, butterfly, and bird species richness have been shown to enhance a person’s feeling of restoration 1) and by possible parasympathetic nervous system activation (which lowers your blood pressure and heart rate) which may decrease your experience of stress 2. Other fun facts, “more people tend to visit public green spaces with moderate levels of vegetation cover (rather than high or low), and vegetation is also likely to influence the perception of safety of an area.” That’s enough nerdiness for today, until next time!