Deciding Where to Live: Choose Nature

a neighborhood with trees

Choosing where to live is a crucial decision that will affect the family’s health and well-being. In the pandemic, this becomes even more crucial. It is safer to stay away from crowded areas, but spending time outdoors in nature is essential. It is, therefore, best to own a house and land that is within walking distance of parks and other areas with greenery, water, and wildlife. A 2021 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) has gathered data from previous research showing the effects of exposure to nature on people. These are also backed by research cited by the American Psychological Association.

Stress Relief and Mental Health

Stress can be measured by the level of cortisol hormones in the body, blood pressure, heart rate, and the person’s own perception. High cortisol levels indicate stress. In 52 articles reviewed from Japan, there was tremendous proof that the participants’ cortisol levels from salivary testing dropped after being immersed in nature. Even more evidence from two meta-analyses showed that nature experiences led to a decrease in the levels of systolic and diastolic blood pressure, indicating physical relaxation. This was measured among hypertensive participants and healthy young participants. Over 40 experiments showed that immersion in nature lowered the participants’ heart rate and feeling of stress.

The Japanese way of forest bathing, called shinrin-yoku, means spending time walking or just being in a forest. Studies found that adults suffering from acute and chronic stress experienced reduced anxiety, depression, and hostility after forest bathing. Compared to other types of nature immersion, forests provided the best and most reliable improvements in mental states.

Another review of research in the United States showed that among people in general, exposure to nature brings joy, improves social interactions, and awakens a sense of life purpose and meaning. The amount of time spent in nature is also a factor. A study in the U.S. found that people who spent from five to eight hours in nature on weekends had a much lower risk of being mildly depressed than those who spent less than half an hour in nature on weekends.

A study among children in Canada showed that after a field trip, they were nicer to their classmates than after a field trip to a museum. A study in Denmark showed that children who grew up with the least areas of greenery had a 55 percent higher risk of developing mental illnesses than those who grew up amid much greenery. Among the possible health risks were mood disorders, depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance abuse.

Brain and Cognitive Function

Studies have also shown that exposure to nature improves memory, develops cognitive flexibility, and focuses attention and concentration for more extended periods. This was found among children and adults.

Exposure to nature can also restore an exhausted brain. A study in Australia tested students made to press a specific computer key when specific numbers flashed onscreen. They were given a 40-minute break midway, with half allowed to look out to a green roof with flowering plants and half made to look out to a concrete roof. The first half made substantially fewer mistakes afterward. Another study made students do complex cognitive tests. One group did so while listening to sounds of nature, like the chirping of crickets and the crashing of waves. The other group did so while listening to the sounds of traffic and a busy café. The first group showed much better results.

Physical Health

health regimen

Nature also has a physical impact on health. A study in Australia found that adults living in areas with more than 80 percent green space had lower risks of not having enough sleep. In the U. S. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, similar results were observed, especially among men and people older than 65 who lived near green spaces, oceans, and lakes.

In Australia, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that people who live 400 meters or less away from a park have a three times higher likelihood of engaging in moderate to high-intensity physical activities. If there is a park 1.6 kilometers or less away from home, people are more likely to walk for 150 minutes or more every week. This is the recommended level of physical activity for adults in the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines.

Having more physical activity is beneficial to everyone, young and old. It prevents obesity and the development of major chronic diseases like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Living Amid Nature

The United Nations Human Rights Council declared on October 8, 2021 that having an environment that is healthy and sustainable is a human right, giving more legal imperative to preserve nature and spurring the creation of environmental policies. Hopefully, this will also ensure that existing urban areas be remodeled to create more spaces for nature. Living in cities must not deprive people of this basic right.


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