AUTHOR: Ginny Gabel, RN, Community Wellness Education, Adventist Health Tillamook
As stay-at-home restrictions begin to lift and the weather changes, people are ready to get outside. This reprint from a previous article on the health impacts of being outdoors gives us one more reason to celebrate where we live. Just remember to follow current guidelines when out and about with others. And keep washing those hands!
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” – John Lubbock
Fresh air offers a great benefit to our health. Living in congested city environments is associated with increased risk for many health complications; while those who live by bodies of water, like the ocean, rivers, and lakes, enjoy improved mood and sense of well-being.
Outdoor environments around bodies of water and trees like evergreen and cedar have more negatively charged ions which research shows is good for health. Ocean air from the mid-Pacific contains significantly less particulate matter compared to air from large cities. Ions are tiny, electrified particles of matter. Ionization along with oxygen and the absence of pollutants help to make “fresh “air, which has more negative ions. Negatively charged air has been shown to kill germs, decrease the survival of airborne bacteria and viruses, boost immune function and even improve symptoms of depression. Alternately, positively charged air is associated with feelings of unpleasantness and lethargy. (Links to research articles and additional information on this topic can be found at https://www.healthline.com/health/negative-ions.)
Fresh air is also dependent on trees. Trees draw particulates, ozone and pollutants from the air into their leaves cleaning the air. The University of Chicago studied the number of trees in Toronto Canada and found a relationship to public health. Their 2015 study published in Scientific Reports showed that planting ten trees per city block related to increased perceptions related to a person’s health. People living on those blocks suffered less from obesity and hypertension as compared to neighborhoods with fewer trees and had the same health impact as being 7 years younger.
People living in a neighborhood with less than 10% tree canopy were much more likely to have symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety a Survey of Health of Wisconsin found. Many other studies are examining how higher amounts of green space in cities leads to mental health benefits. Even outdoor exercise and community gardening, as explored by Harvard School of Public Health, are linked to mental health benefits such as recovery of mental fatigue, reduced stress and improved restoration. A growing body of research shows nature is a potent therapy for depression, chronic disease and contributes to creative thinking.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs
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