How nature boosts your health?

Our team hiking in Canada, British Columbia | Photo:  Marko Magister

Our team hiking in Canada, British Columbia | Photo: Marko Magister

Each year, a quarter of Europeans suffer from depression or anxiety. It costs the EU economy about €170 billion per year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). If anxiety and all forms of depression are counted, nearly 4 out of 15 people are affected in the EU. At the same time, over 50% of Europeans are overweight, and around 23% of women and 20% of men are obese. One in three 11-year-olds in Europe are overweight or obese.

Depression can be effectively prevented and treated. Treatment usually involves either psychologic therapy or antidepressant medication or a combination of both. Health organizations recommend a raft of measures to combat obesity, including introducing a colour-coded nutrition labelling system that points consumers to healthier options and monitoring food and beverage marketing.

But there may be an even simpler solution – get people outside and enjoy nature!

Living close to nature has many benefits

According to a new report, people living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants. Researchers at the Institute for European Environmental Policy reviewed 200 studies for Friends of the Earth Europe and reached the conclusion that being close to nature improves your health, even when controlling for other factors.

For example, it found that middle-aged men living in deprived urban areas with high amounts of green space have a 16% lower risk of dying compared with similar groups living in equally deprived areas with less greenery.

Unsurprisingly, the closer you are to nature, the more likely you are to exercise. In Denmark, people living more than 1km from a natural green environment were more likely to be obese and less likely to exercise rigorously than those living within 300m.

Nature also has a positive impact on our brains. In Spain, people living within 300m of green areas said they had better mental health. Another study found doctors in urban areas with more trees on the street tended to prescribe fewer antidepressants than those in urban areas without trees.

Access to the outdoors also improves old age. Older people are more likely to live longer if they live near walkable greenery filled public areas, found one study.

Quite simply, people are happier and have lower mental distress when they live closer to nature.

This article is an excerpt of the original article published by Alex Gray, Senior Writer of the WEF (World Economic Forum).