Researchers have studied the impact of nature on human well-being for years, but recent studies have found a more direct correlation between human health, particularly related to stress, and the importance of access to nature and managed landscapes.
“The advantages of grass and landscaping surpass the usual physical benefits that result from outdoor activity,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI). “Numerous studies have found that people who spend more time outside or are exposed to living landscapes are happier, healthier and smarter.”
Getting dirty is actually good for you. Soil is the new Prozac, according to Dr. Christopher Lowery, a neuroscientist at the University of Bristol in England. Mycobacterium vaccae in soil mirrors the effect on neurons that Prozac provides. The bacterium stimulates serotonin production, which explains why people who spend time gardening and have direct contact with soil feel more relaxed and happier.
Living near living landscapes can improve your mental health. Researchers in England found that people moving to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least three years after they moved. The study also showed that people relocating to a more developed area suffered a drop in mental health.
Green spaces can make you healthier too. People who live within a half mile of green space (such as parks, public gardens and green ways) were found to have a lower incidence of fifteen diseases by Dutch researchers — including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and migraines. A 2015 study found that people living on streets with more trees had a boost in heart and metabolic health.
Living landscapes make your kids smarter and reduce ADHD symptoms. Children gain attention and working memory benefits when they are exposed to greenery, says a study led by the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona. In addition, exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children.
Spending time around plants also improves concentration and memory. Research shows that being around plants helps you concentrate better at home and at work. Charlie Hall, Ellison Chair in International Floriculture at Texas A&M University, believes that spending time in gardens can improve attention span and memory performance by as much as 20 percent.
Gardening is great for the body and the soul. People who gardened for at least 30 minutes a week had lower body mass indexes (BMIs), a measure of body fat, as well as higher levels of self-esteem and better moods overall. They also reported lower levels of tension and stress.
Nature walks (or runs) are great for your brain and stress levels. A National Institute of Health study found that adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after going on a nature walk. A Stanford University study found that walking in nature, rather than a concrete-oriented, urban environment, resulted in decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect, and produced cognitive benefits, such as increased working memory performance.
Living landscapes help you heal faster. Multiple studies have discovered that plants in hospital recovery rooms or views of aesthetically-pleasing gardens help patients heal up to one day faster than those who are in more sterile or austere environments.
You can also be a nicer person, when you spend time in nature. Less stress means better well-being, and that bubbles over into other parts of life. Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community, and close relationships. A systematic research review concluded that “the balance of evidence indicates conclusively that knowing and experiencing nature makes us generally happier, healthier people.”
All of these benefits reinforce the importance of maintaining our yards, parks and other community green spaces. Trees, shrubs, grass and flowering plants are integral to human health. Not only do they provide a place for kids and pets to play, they directly contribute to our mental and physical well-being.
For more tips on maintaining a living landscape, go to www.opei.org/stewardship/