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How Access To Green Space Impacts Our Sleep, Metabolism & More

Emma Loewe
Author:
January 25, 2024
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
Healthy Planet Healthy You - woman thinking
Image by Matt and Tish
January 25, 2024
Our series Healthy Planet, Healthy You explores just how tightly human health and environmental health are intertwined—for better and for worse. Each month, we'll share the latest news on how nature can rejuvenate us on one hand and damage our health when it's not cared for on the other. We'll end with timely tips and tools to help you care for your environment so it can care for you.
1.

Working near greenery could reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome

What's the view from your desk? Researchers in Hangzhou, China, recently studied how office workers' proximity to green space impacted their risk of metabolic syndrome. They found that adults who worked closest to greenery were 17% less likely to have metabolic syndrome symptoms like hypertension and obesity than those who worked farthest away from it.

There are a few reasons this could be the case: One, green features like trees can help reduce harmful air and noise pollution. Simply looking out at greenery has also been associated with a more positive mood and less stress1. So, if you're able to position your desk to look out onto a tree-lined street or public park, consider this your green light. (Read the research here2.)

2.

People who live near green and blue spaces tend to have more stable mental health

Research conducted in Washington state found that adults ages 65 and older who lived surrounded by natural features tended to be less likely to report psychological distress.

They came to this conclusion by comparing ZIP code data on green space, tree canopy, forest area, open space, blue space, and trail length with people's responses to a telephone survey on their mental health. Even a 10% increase in green space was associated with lower odds of self-reported psychological distress.

"Our findings suggest that loss of our urban green and blue spaces due to rapid urbanization may not just have an environmental impact but could have a public health impact as well," study author Adithya Vegaraju said in a statement. (Read the research here3.)

3.

Their sleep may be better too

In other news, having access to more green space may also improve your sleep quality—due in part to nature's effect on mood and mental health, as well as its ability to regulate temperature. New research out of Korea found that adults who lived in greener urban areas tended to have a lower risk of mild to severe sleep deprivation—though the link was stronger in men than women. (Read the research here4.)

4.

Access to green space is not enough — safety is also key

Most studies in the environmental health space (including those above) use green space proximity as a proxy for green space use. That is, they assume that people who live or work closer to natural features like parks will also spend more time in them.

A new study pokes a hole in that assumption. It found that people who live within walking distance of a park in Baltimore City, Maryland, didn't necessarily visit it more frequently. Instead, how often they went to the park correlated to how safe they thought the park was. This underlines the importance of not only reserving but also maintaining green space in urban areas for the sake of population health. (Read the research here5.)

Monthly focus: Make climate your job

Our jobs are usually a pretty major part of our identity, for better or worse. Transitioning to a climate career is one way to make a meaningful impact—but this doesn't have to mean packing up and starting from scratch. Instead, consider how you can more directly engage with climate topics in your current role.

Whether it's doctors discussing the impacts of climate change with their patients, office workers securing composting for their building, or stay-at-home parents discussing climate with their kids, each of us can bring unique value to this movement. To kick off this year, consider how you can turn your job into more of a "climate job" in the year ahead. Because the future of our planet doesn't rest solely in the hands of scientists or legislators—we'll all have a role to play.

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