A recent analysis commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe finds that living in the countryside offers greater health benefits than living in the city. Researchers at the Institute for European Environmental Policy examined data from more than 200 academic studies and finds that living in the countryside — where green, open spaces can be easily accessed — may help cut the risk of premature death and certain diseases. Conversely, living in heavily-polluted cities may raise the risk of these conditions, the analysis shows. The results of the analysis support previous findings that residing in industrialized cities and urban areas could be a primary risk factor for a host of adverse health conditions.
According to the review, people living in regions with lush vegetation and open spaces are less likely to suffer depression or obesity than those living in cities. Data also shows that people with easy access to open fields and trees have a 16% lower death rate than those living in urban jungles. Researchers also find that pregnant women who live in areas with more trees and open spaces gave birth to children with much healthier sizes. These findings suggest that increased opportunity for physical activity and reduced exposure to ambient air pollution may be the reasons behind the positive health effects of living in the countryside.
“The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature. We all need nature in our lives, it gives us freedom and helps us live healthily; yet deprived communities are routinely cut off from nature in their surroundings and it is suffocating for their well-being,” says Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner Robbie Blake.
The recent analysis is only one of many studies that have demonstrated the environment’s effects on the body’s overall health. For instance, a study published in the journal Science reveals that gallbladder surgery patients who had bedside windows overlooking leafy trees had faster recovery than those who only saw a brick wall. Patients who had access to bedside windows also required fewer pain relievers and showed less post-surgical complications, the study shows.
Harvard University researchers also find that people living in urban jungles have a 12% higher death rate than those living in areas with access to green spaces. A review of 110,000 women shows that those who live in urbanized areas are at an increased risk of developing cancer and respiratory conditions. On the other hand, those who live in the greenest areas had a 13% lower rate of cancer-related death, and a 34% lower rate of respiratory disease-related mortality.
Another review published in BMC Public Health shows that walking or running in natural green spaces results in reduced anger, fatigue, and depression as well as improved attention levels compared with doing so in a synthetic environment.
Having more trees in a city block may help improve health perception in residents, according to an Ontario Health Study. Researchers say this trees lend to people perceiving certain events more positively, which in turn leads to a healthier immune system. Interestingly, positive perception can also lead to an annual personal income increase of $10,000.
The study also shows that having 11 more trees in a neighborhood helps cut the rates of cardio-metabolic conditions. This is comparable to being 1.4 years younger or a raise in annual personal income of $20,000.
“The environment we live in has a big impact on our perception of wellbeing, but also objectively on our health outcomes. We have to take that information into account when conducting urban planning,” says Lyle Palmer, the study’s executive scientific director.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.