Studies have shown that frequent visits to parks, community gardens and other urban green spaces may lessen the use of drugs for depression, high blood pressure, asthma and anxiety.
Researchers in Finland discovered that visiting these kinds of parts three to four times a week reduces people’s odds of switching to medications for mental health issues or high blood pressure by a third, and for asthma by about a quarter.
The researchers found the beneficial effects of going to green spaces were even stronger among households with the lowest annual household income.
The results are consistent with growing evidence that insufficient green space is connected with a number of health conditions. Poorer communities have fewer chances to get a glimpse of nature, and access tends to be uneven.
In order to evaluate this link, scientists at the Finnish Institute for health and Welfare evaluated the responses of 16,000 randomly selected inhabitants of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa, three cities which constitute the largest urban area in Finland, in the 2015-16 environmental Health survey of the Helsinki capital area.
The study sought to find out just how urban dwellers aged at least 25 experienced green and blue areas within a 1km (0.62-mile) radius of their homes. Green places comprised forests, moors, natural grasslands, zoos, cemeteries, castle parks, parks, gardens, and wetlands. And blue places included the ocean, lakes and rivers.
The survey asked people to report their usage of medications for depression, anxiety, insomnia and high blood pressure. The respondents had been asked how often they hang out outside in green spaces during May and September, with choices ranging from hardly ever to 5 or more times per week.
The scientists utilized prescribed drugs as a proxy for health conditions. They selected the drugs for dealing with typical but potentially serious health issues , for example, anxiety and asthma, and also for anxiety and depression.
The researchers found a strong link between visits to green areas and reduced chances of using opioids. Visits of three to four times per week ended up being connected with a 33 % lower risk of taking mental health medications, 36 % lower risk of taking blood pressure prescription drugs and 26 % lower risk of asthma, in contrast to less than one weekly visit.
However, those who visited green spaces a minimum of five times per week were only 22 % less likely to take mental health drugs and 24 % less likely to use asthma drugs. Nevertheless, a rise in frequency did correlate with reduced odds of taking blood pressure medication, with 41 % less probability of needing it.
“Adding scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of nature exposure is likely to boost the availability of top-quality green areas in urban locations and promote their active use,” the authors write. “This might be one method to improve health and welfare in cities,” he said.
Their research is published online in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.