Want to live longer? Be happier? Feel healthier? Try going green. A new study reveals exposure to natural vegetation reduces stress and illness, allowing for longer life! Don’t worry if you can’t drop everything and wander off into the woods, as there are some small things you can do to bring the benefits of nature closer to you.
Beauty creams and makeup may help you look younger, but all the wrinkle treatments in the world won’t accomplish what good old-fashioned nature can: giving you a longer life. According to a recent article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, women who live near green space are more likely to cheat death…for longer than those who live in the lowest fifth of green areas, anyway.
Researchers used data from the U.S. Nurse’s Health Survey, collected nationally over eight years, and found hard evidence that women who lived near some type of green space had a markedly lower mortality rate. This is no small finding, given that human life is at stake, and most women are eager to keep their health deep into their twilight years.
Here is the nitty-gritty of their astounding discovery:
- Women living within a half mile of green space had:
- A 12% lower death rate
- Lower occurrence of depression
- Women living in the greenest areas were:
- 34% less likely to die from repertory illness
- 13% less likely to die from cancer.
Men have not been considered in this exact type of study yet, but scientists believe that if and when they are included, results will be similar.
What is responsible for these impressive statistics?
Being out in nature has long been thought to be good for stress levels. Just think: instead of constant emails, texts, paperwork and boring white walls, you could be surrounded by lush, cascading plants, shades of natural green, and the sound of wind rushing through leaves. Which sounds more relaxing?
In fact, scientists have been examining the possible links between good health and exposure to nature for decades. But this study is the first of its kind to directly examine the link between where women live and their rate of mortality. Surprisingly, this recent research suggests that a large part of differences in women’s health outcomes is due to their levels of depression.
While the author of the study told CNN he was “surprised at the magnitude of the mental health pathway,” it seems that lower depression rates were mainly responsible for these women’s improved health and longer life. In fact, it may be responsible for up to 30% of the difference.
Researchers say that exposure to natural vegetation is associated with a more active lifestyle, more reasons to go out and engage with your community, and less contact with air pollution, resulting in less depression. Similarly, the study found that a large part of the difference in mortality rates had to do with fewer incidences of repertory illnesses and cancers.
This means that one might think about exposure to plants the same way we do about consuming antioxidants. Free radicals, like those found in pollution, naturally occur less in lush, biological environments, making the wilderness a pretty healthy, relaxing place to be.
So how can we make sure to reap the benefits?
But what if you’re not so outdoorsy? Or maybe you just don’t have the luxury of being able to ditch your responsibilities and your downtown condo in favor of a cabin in the Rocky Mountains?
There is good news for those of us who are not nature freaks, so don’t worry too much. Study author and researcher, Peter James, says that living in a remote or woodsy area is not a necessity for receiving the benefits of plant life. In fact, the majority of women surveyed live in urban areas, and often, just a little bit of greenery is enough. “I want to point out that 84 percent of study participants live in urban areas,” James told CNN.
“We are not saying you need to live near a park…Policymakers, planners and architects may have this tool to create more healthy and sustainable places,” James said. “This study is another step in adding to the evidence that nature may be related to better health.” Specifically, the study found that living within 820 feet of lush greenery was all it took to see the health benefits researchers looked for.
Bringing Nature to You
Many women do live within half a mile of a park or other green space (and if this is you, make sure to get out there!). But if you are not lucky enough to have a garden or stretch of forest near you, there are still many things you can do to emulate these great results.
Your surroundings are important to you. Making your space beautiful and relaxing is a priority. But if you can’t drop everything and head for the woods, there are still many delightful ways you can bring the benefits of nature closer to you.
The wonderful thing about incorporating indoor plants into your interior design is that it’s nearly foolproof. Gorgeous, carefully planned and crafted placement of plants is an option to showcase your design talents. But many women would rather spend less time planning and more time soaking up the nature. If this is you, not to worry!
Plants placed about the room as an afterthought rarely look haphazard. In fact, little pops of greenery in odd places about the room can actually create a ‘bohemian’ look reminiscent of a scene from Vogue, or a shabby chic French cottage.
If you live in a bright and sunny home, there is almost no limit to the greenhouse ambiance you can create. If you have an area with strong sunlight throughout much of the day, potted dwarf citrus trees will thrive.
The blossoms smell amazing, and two or more of these trees grouped together will make you feel like you’re on an Italian sun-porch. No joke. Other plants that do well on a sunny indoor windowsill include geraniums and succulents. For bonus healthy properties, aloe will also work on your cuts and burns, in addition to greening up your space.
Most interiors have few spots that get sun all day, however. If your home is a bit dark, you can still have indoor gardening success. Most pre-potted indoor plants you can buy actually do wonderfully in shade. For example, ferns, pothos, and spider plants thrive in low to medium lighting conditions.
Some of these plants also have the incredible ability to help clean and purify your indoor air. For example, peace lily plants provide leafy foliage, striking white flowers, and actually help clean your home’s air of some common household pollutants, like formaldehyde, and carbon dioxide.
Since findings suggest that less exposure to air pollution was a major factor in the health benefits of living near green space, common sense suggests that these air-filtering plants may produce similar results.
James has told reporters that “any increased vegetation — more street trees, for example — seems to decrease mortality rates.” With this potential in mind, what will you do to reap the rewards?