As humans, we understand that there is connection between our well-being and exposure to The Great Outdoors. We can simply feel it when we go for a walk in the park, take in a breath of fresh air, or feel the calm and joy we receive as we engage in hobbies such as fishing or camping. Intuitively, we know the connection between our well-being and being in the natural environment, and research is confirming there is, indeed, a correlation between exposure to green space and increased physical and mental health.
The Role of Green Infrastructure
According to the Green Infrastructure and Health Guide, prepared by the Willamette Partnership and Oregon Public Health Institute, Green Infrastructure can be defined as “ the natural and built green spaces that uses nature and natural processes to manage a variety of challenges, including improving water quality, reducing flood risk, providing wildlife habitat, improving air quality, and now, improving human health.”
In addition to this being an effective way to protect and enhance a community’s natural assets, research also shows physical and mental health benefits to the residents within the community.
3 Healthy Benefits of Being in Nature
Green exercise and Improved mood
High quality green space creates an environment that is more walkable, and provides greater opportunity for individuals to get outside and get active in ways such as biking and running trails, or group fitness in the park. The link between physical activity and improved health is no secret. In fact, “most chronic diseases, and certainly heart disease, are directly linked with a lack of physical activity.”  However, while physical activity in general is known to have positive health benefits, there is something to be said about exercising in the natural environment, specifically.
One study examined two groups who were performing the exact same exercise but had two different views: one group had a view of nature while the other had a view of an urban landscape. According to the study, the group with the view of nature “showed significantly greater reductions in blood pressure as well as increases in positive mood and self-esteem” relative to the other group.
Nature and Stress Reduction
In today’s fast paced world, high stress levels are quite common and there might be something to say about exposing ourselves to nature as a way to reduce stress. In a similar study as above, a group of mildly stressed individuals are provided two sets of colour slides to view. One set has scenes of nature including trees and vegetation, while the other set provides a view of urban landscapes. The participants rated their mood after viewing each set of slides. The study showed the urban landscape views promoted feelings of aggravation, anxiety and sadness, whereas the natural views reduced feelings of fear and participants experienced greater positive feelings of elation and affection.
Nature Provides a Sense of Community
Developing a sense of community and social connection is an important factor in encouraging positive physical and mental health results. With the increase in urban area there has been a greater disconnect between communities and the natural environment, and studies show this can be “tied conclusively to an increase in feelings of isolation and depression within these communities.” Green spaces provide an opportunity for a community to come together, encouraging greater social interaction and building social connections, reducing the sense of loneliness and isolation.
The next time you’re considering hitting the gym, feeling a bit isolated, or your stress levels are on the rise, you may want to consider stepping outside and experience the green infrastructure within your community for that extra health and mood boost!