LivingWhy green areas are good for your health

Why green areas are good for your health

‘Shinrin yoku’ or ‘forest bath’ is a Japanese term that, translated literally, means ‘absorb the atmosphere of the forest’ and is used to refer to those walks through green spaces in which calm invades the body and mind of the walker. In which the breeze gently caresses the skin, the sounds and aromas of the environment become intoxicating and the place is left with a feeling of inner peace greater than the one entered. A new study suggests that this practice is more beneficial than previously believed.

A research team from the University of East Anglia has concluded that living close to nature and spending time outdoors implies very significant improvements to health . Exposure to green spaces reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular problems, premature death, premature labor, stress or high blood pressure.

The study has been carried out gathering global information from more than 290 million people and all the results indicate that the population with higher levels of exposure to green spaces are more likely to enjoy good general health. The information collected came from 20 countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, France, Australia and Japan, where the practice of ‘forest bathing’ is already common among their population.

The study’s lead author, Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett of Norwich Medical School, says they have “gathered evidence from about 140 studies to see if nature really does improve health . Until now, the impact on long-term well-being has not been fully understood.

The benefits of the forest for our health

Green spaces were defined as ‘open and undeveloped places with natural vegetation’ , as well as urban green spaces that included parks and green areas on city streets. The team compared the health of people with poor access to green spaces and those with higher exposure. “Spending time or living near natural green spaces is associated with significant health improvements ,” says Twohig-Bennett.

In the UK alone, 11.7 million working days are lost annually due to stress, depression or anxiety. One of the most significant discoveries is that exposure to green spaces reduces levels of salivary cortisol , a physiological marker of stress. Twohig-Bennett hopes that “the research will inspire people to go outside more often and promote the creation, regeneration and maintenance of green spaces in deprived residential areas and communities.”

Researchers associate this relationship between better health and time spent in green spaces with the greatest number of options for physical activities and socializing. It could also be related to exposure to bacteria and phytoncides , organic compounds with antibacterial properties released by trees.

‘Forest baths are a very popular therapy in Japan , whether it is relaxing lying in the forest or walking through it. Our study proves that they may have got it right, ‘concludes Twohig-Bennett.

Reference: Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett & Andy Jones. ‘The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes’. Enviromental research Journal, 2018. DOI:

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