Today’s Solutions: March 29, 2023

According to new research, visits to parks, community gardens, and other urban green spaces may reduce city inhabitants’ use of medicines for anxiety, sleeplessness, melancholy, high blood pressure, and asthma.

Researchers in Finland discovered that visiting natural settings three to four times per week reduces people’s odds of using medications for mental health issues or high blood pressure by one-third, and for asthma by approximately a quarter.

Furthermore, the researchers discovered that those with the lowest yearly household income benefited the most from accessing natural places.

The connection between nature and health

The findings are consistent with a growing body of evidence linking a lack of access to green spaces to a variety of health issues. Access to nature, especially in urban settings, is often unequal, with poorer demographics having fewer chances to visit green spaces.

To investigate the correlation, researchers from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare examined the responses to the 2015-16 Helsinki capital region environmental health survey of 16,000 randomly selected residents of the three cities that comprise Finland’s largest urban area: Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa.

Green and blue spaces

The poll collected data on how city people aged 25 and up engaged with residential green and blue spaces within a one km (0.62-mile) radius of their houses. Forests, gardens, parks, castle parks, cemeteries, zoos, natural grasslands, moors, and wetlands were examples of green regions, whereas seas, lakes, and rivers were examples of blue areas.

Participants were asked about their usage of prescription medications for anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression, as well as high blood pressure and asthma. They were then asked how frequently they spent time or exercised in green spaces between May and September, with responses ranging from never to five or more times per week.

The study findings

Prescription medicines were chosen as a measure of poor health by the researchers. They chose those for anxiety, sleeplessness, and depression, as well as high blood pressure and asthma because they treat common but potentially critical health concerns.

They discovered a robust link between trips to green places and a lower likelihood of utilizing such medications. Visiting three to four times weekly was associated with 33 percent lower risks of using mental health drugs, 36 percent lower odds of using blood pressure drugs, and 26 percent lower odds of using asthma drugs as compared to fewer than one weekly visit.

Surprisingly, those who frequented green areas at least five times per week were only 22 percent less likely to use mental health meds and percent less likely to use asthma prescriptions. However, the increased frequency was associated with a 41 percent reduced likelihood of needing blood pressure medication than someone who visited less than once a week.

“Mounting scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of nature exposure is likely to increase the supply of high-quality green spaces in urban environments and promote their active use,” the researchers wrote. “This might be one way to improve health and welfare in cities.”

Source study: Occupational & Environmental Medicine— Cross-sectional associations of different types of nature exposure with psychotropic, antihypertensive and asthma medication

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