Posted on May 08, 2023, 6 p.m.
According to a recent study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, frequent visits to green spaces like parks and community gardens, rather than the amount, or views of them from home, may be linked to the lower use of certain prescription medications.
Spending time basking in nature might just be the perfect prescription for helping city dwellers to reduce their medication usage, as visiting green spaces rather than looking at them from a distance was found to have helped urban residents to reduce their use of prescription medications for anxiety, insomnia, depression, asthma, and high blood pressure.
Previous research has shown connections between good health and natural environments, but the findings have been somewhat inconsistent, according to the study authors who examined which factors promote better health outcomes taking into account factors such as how much green space was available, how much blue space (water) was available, and whether viewing the spaces from home would have the same effects.
This study used data from 16,000 randomly selected residents aged 25+ from three urban areas in Finland that reported visiting nearby green or blue spaces. According to the researchers they used prescription medications as an indicator of poor health for those with conditions like high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. Other factors were also taken into account that could influence the results such as noise, household income, educational level, air pollution, and personal health behavior.
Green spaces/areas were defined as being any parks, gardens, forests, community gardens, castle parks, zoos, wetlands, natural grasslands, and cemeteries. While blue areas/spaces included rivers, seas, and lakes.
Participants provided information on their use of prescription medications and psychotropic drugs as well as how long they used them. Participants also reported how long they spent outdoors exercising in green/blue spaces from late spring to early fall, as well as whether or not they could view green/blue spaces from their homes and if so how often they looked outside at them. Of the original 16,000, only 6,000 participants met the criteria to be included in the final analysis.
Findings showed that the amount of nearby residential green/blue spaces or views of them from home made no difference in the use of prescription medications, however, the number of times that participants physically visited a green/blue space did make a positive impact on their health. Those who visited green/blue spaces 3-4 times per week benefited from a 33% reduction in their use of mental health medications, a 36% lower chance of using blood pressure medication, and a 26% decrease in the use of asthma medications compared to those who only visited green/blue spaces less than once per week. Those who visited green/blue spaces 5 times per week experienced the use of mental health prescriptions drop by 22%, the use of blood pressure medications decreased by 41%, and the use of asthma drugs reduced by 24%.
Due to the nature of observational studies, no firm conclusions can be drawn to establish cause and effect, and not all factors could be controlled for such as fluctuating weight (BMI) which can affect certain health conditions as well as medications. It was also noted that although household income and educational levels did not affect the final study results, those who made less than $32,000 annually appeared to experience greater health benefits after visiting green/blues spaces.
The authors concluded that “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. This might be one way to improve health and welfare in cities.”
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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