Exposure to natural environments, such as urban green spaces, parks, and community gardens may be beneficial to an individual’s health, according to a study that found frequent visits to green spaces reduced use of prescription drugs for asthma, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
The results of this cross-sectional observational study were published in the journal, Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
“In this cross-sectional study in the Helsinki capital region of Finland, a higher frequency of green space visits was associated with a lower frequency of psychotropic, antihypertensive and asthma medication use, and the association was not dependent on SES,” wrote the researchers.
The data for this study came from the Helsinki Capital Region Environmental Health Survey in 2015-2016, which includes 16 000 randomly selected individuals ages 25 and older living in cities that make up the largest urban area in Finland: Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa. The survey required that respondents experienced residential green and blue spaces within a 1 km (approximately 0.62 mile) radius of home. The final analysis included about 6,000 individuals who provided complete information.
The participants were asked how often they spent time outdoors in green spaces during the months of May and September. Additionally, they were asked whether they could see green or blue spaces from any of their windows at home, and if so, how often they took in these views.
Potentially influential factors included health behaviors, outdoor air pollution and noise, and household income and educational attainment were also observed.
As a result, the amount of residential green and blue spaces, or views from home, were not associated with prescription use for asthma, mental health, insomnia, or high blood pressure. However, higher frequency of green space visits resulted in lower frequency of medication use.
Visiting a green space 3-4 times weekly was associated with 26% lower odds of using asthma medications, 33% lower odds of using mental health medications, and 36% lower odds of using blood pressure medications.
These observed associations were attenuated by body mass index (BMI), particularly for asthma medicatios, but were independent from socioeconomic status (SES) factors, such as income and education.
Additionally, the effects of visiting green spaces were strongest among those with an annual household income below €30,000 (approximately $32,000). However, the overall associations found were independent of household income and educational attainment.
The researchers acknowledge that because this study was observational in nature, it cannot determine cause and effect. Despite limitations, the researchers believe this study adds to other studies that have found exposure to natural environment to be beneficial for human health.
“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,” wrote the researchers.
Turunen AW, Halonen J, Korpela K, et al. Cross-sectional associations of different types of nature exposure with psychotropic, antihypertensive and asthma medication. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2023;80(2):111-118. doi:10.1136/oemed-2022-108491