Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 Oct

16 Ways Green Space Improves Your Life

Green SpaceMost people like being surrounded by nature. Even if it’s just a walk through a suburban city park or puttering about in a backyard garden, we’re drawn to green spaces filled with grass, trees, and leafy vegetation. They make us feel better. But the way we describe the effects of green space is all very amorphous and abstract and general, isn’t it? We “feel good” sitting on the grass. “It’s nice” to take a walk along a forest path. The office “doesn’t feel right” without a potted plant on the desk. Those sorts of benefits are great on a subjective level for the people experiencing them, but they aren’t very persuasive to others. If you want your ambivalent spouse to help grow the big garden you’ve always wanted, or your skeptical friends to start going on hikes with you, more specific and measurable reasons might be just the ticket.

So let’s dig deeper. Let’s explore the specific ways in which green spaces improve our lives:

Green spaces improve immune function.

A Japanese therapy called “forest bathing” involves spending deliberate time in nature (usually forests, hence the name) and actually boosts immune function. Natural killer cells are critical for proper function of the innate immune system; one of their most important functions is to eliminate tumors. And just a single day trip to a forest park can increase NK cell number and activity, as well as upregulate anti-cancer proteins, for up to a full week. In every forest bathing study, in fact, participants enjoy this increased natural killer cell (NK cell) activity and anti-cancer protein function.

Green spaces reduce stress.

If I’m ever stressed out and nothing’s helping, I’ll head out to the hills for a quick hike. Not a long one, not a grueling one. Just a quick jaunt to nature. Almost invariably, it works. I’m able to reset my stress response, get a handle on my sympathetic nervous system, and calmly address the source of the stress. So it’s no surprise that neighborhood green spaces are associated with healthier cortisol levels in deprived urban communities in Scotland and forest bathing therapy has been used to lower cortisol levels.

Green spaces improve mental health.

We tend to focus on physical health, but mental health (which isn’t really separate from physical health) is arguably more reliant on regular exposure to green space. Among both rural and urban Wisconsin residents, high levels of neighborhood green space were consistently linked to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And in case you’re thinking of moving, consider that people who move to “greener” urban neighborhoods enjoy improved mental health in the subsequent years than people who move to “less green” urban areas.

Green spaces lower blood pressure.

A week-long evergreen forest retreat reduced hypertension in elderly Japanese, while a control group taking a similar retreat in the city experienced no benefits to blood pressure. Heck, even in 10 year old kids living in urban areas, low levels of nearby green space were associated with higher blood pressure. No one’s blood pressure is immune to the lack of green space, and kids might even be more susceptible.

Green spaces reduce mortality.

Now, this could very well merely be a correlation. But the presence of green space is fairly often linked to reductions in all-cause and stroke mortality. In a cohort of 575,000 urban Ontario residents aged 35 and older, for example, living near greenery reduced mortality. Same for ischemic stroke survivors and North Floridians.

Green spaces improve healthy longevity.

In a recent study out of the Netherlands, proximity to urban green space was associated with improvements in both longevity and healthy longevity. So not only were people living longer, they were living longer and more healthfully: compression of morbidity. Controlling for income level did not alter the effect.

Green spaces promote physical activity and exercise by making it more enjoyable.

People enjoy working out in nature. They prefer to walk through a park to along a boring suburban street. They’d rather hike than slog on a treadmill. Tabata kettlebell swings are somehow more tolerable when done in fresh air with trees overhead and grass underfoot. The closer you are to a green space, the more likely you are to be physically active. Better still, green spaces promote the precise type of physical activity we so desperately lack these days: walking.

Green spaces also improve the mental and psychological benefits of physical activity and exercise.

Exercise isn’t just good for the body, but also the mind; we often forget this. A 2011 meta-analysis broke down the psychological benefits of outdoor workouts. Compared to indoor workouts, outdoor workouts resulted in greater revitalization, increased energy, and more positive engagement, along with less depression, anger, confusion, and tension.

Green spaces-related health improvements cannot be completely explained by increased physical activity.

That’s an attractive assumption to make, but even though physical activity is consistently higher in greener neighborhoods, adjusting for this only slightly attenuates the relationship between green space and health. It’s not just the physical activity. It’s not even mostly the physical activity.

Green spaces reduce blood sugar.

Diabetics who go on forest bathing trips enjoy lower blood sugar and improved HbA1c. And in Australians, living near green space was independently associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Not even controlling for demographics, income level, diet, activity level, culture, or health eliminated the link.

Green spaces improve sleep.

When you go camping, your sleep typically improves and instead of staying up past midnight, you might find yourself nodding off shortly after dark and waking up refreshed like never before. According to the conventional Primal explanation, the lack of artificial lighting is allowing your natural circadian rhythm to dictate your sleep habits. That’s certainly a huge part of it, but what if the presence of green vegetation is also playing a role? A recent study found evidence of such an effect, with urban dwellers living near green spaces reporting healthier sleep habits.

Green spaces make us more productive.

Exposure to green space engages our involuntary attention, the kind of soft focus where we’re seeing, hearing, and smelling sensory data without devoting huge amounts of brain power to it. This restores our voluntary attention, the kind of hard focus we require to concentrate on work-related tasks and be productive. Even brief exposure to pictures of nature scenes restores our attentional capacity – our ability to concentrate on a given task without deviating or becoming sidetracked.

Green space is especially important for children.

Kids already know it. You set one down in a forest or park and they know exactly what to do. They’re running, jumping, climbing trees, digging for bugs, getting dirty, collecting leaves, inventing games, and sporting the biggest smiles you’ll ever see. So that’s reason enough to give children ample and regular (daily) access to green space. But there are also proven, measurable physiological and mental benefits for them, including: increased test scores in “nature-smart” kids; enhanced learning when curriculum is nature-based; reduced impact of ADHD; enhancement of self-discipline and self-control; improved cognitive function and concentration; and stress amelioration in highly-stressed kids. Kids with poor access to outdoor space are also more likely to have behavior problems. Powerful stuff, eh?

Green spaces produce healthier babies.

I’m not talking about human infants spawning from the roots of an old oak tree like something out of Celtic folklore. I refer to the findings of a recent study from Vancouver (hat tip to reader Wenchypoo for alerting me to it). Pregnant women in neighborhoods with ample amounts of grass, trees, and leafy vegetation gave birth to healthier babies than women in neighborhoods with less greenery. Even after researchers controlled for variables that also affect health at birth like neighborhood walkability, air and noise pollution, and income level, the association held firm. This study doesn’t confirm causality, but it’s certainly suggestive. And another study supports it, finding that urban green space was linked to lower rates of neonatal mortality.

Green spaces reduce air pollution.

This is a huge one that might explain the previous benefit to pregnant mothers and their babies. Grass, trees, and plants of all kinds reduce air pollution, so when you live in an area with ample green space – even an urban environment generating lots of pollution – you can breathe easier. In one recent study, researchers found that the more green space in and around a pregnant woman’s home, the lower her exposure to and inhalation of airborne pollution particulates.

Green space-related health improvements usually require visiting the space.

While a lot of the benefits of green space are passive – you can just “be” and accrue positive effects to your health and well-being simply by being near vegetative growth – the active pursuit of experiences in nature provides further benefits. For instance, one study found that the mental health benefits associated with green space exposure were more evident in adults who were physically active in those spaces. Having a great park near your house doesn’t do much for you if you never walk through it.

So, how does this all happen? What’s so great about green space? I’ll give my little pet theory. See what you think about it.

We often forget that plants are alive. I mean, we cursorily acknowledge that they’re living, that they take in nutrients and grow and die, but we mostly think of them as passive, inanimate objects. Emerging evidence shows that plants are much more than that. They react to their surroundings. They communicate with each other using volatile airborne compounds to discuss incoming attacks from herbivores. They can “hear.” They sense gravity, and when an object is in the path of their growth can change that path to go around. They feel a sort of pain. They wield a sort of intelligence. Is it the same kind as human pain or human intelligence? No, but it’s there. They don’t have to be Tolkienesque Ents to have agency.

My wild guess is that humans can subconsciously eavesdrop on plant communication. We already know that humans can pick up on a tomato plant’s nutrient content by “listening to” its flavor-related volatile compounds. And when we’re exposed to the airborne phytoncides (wood essential oils/volatile compounds) released by trees, we enjoy increased immune function and lower stress. If you’ve ever walked through the rain forests of Washington state, for example, or the jungles of Thailand, you’ll know what I mean: you feel it. The place is alive and full of conversation. It’s in another language, and like visiting a busy marketplace in another country, you can’t quite make out the specifics, but you get the gist of what’s going on and you’re glad to have witnessed it.

That plant speak, those volatile airborne compounds, that’s a cue for our bodies. It’s the signal that we’re home, in good hands, in a good place amongst the greenery.

I know what a lot of you are thinking: correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation. That’s true, and I’ve certainly said the same thing many times over on this blog. But there’s a difference with green space. Giving up red meat based on some correlative evidence is risky because red meat is a highly nutritious food, and besides, there’s lots of counter-evidence showing how healthy it can be. Exposing yourself to green spaces, taking walks in the park, going for hikes in the forest, planning a camping trip – these aren’t risky. These are fun activities and behaviors that you were probably going to do anyway. Even if there weren’t any established health benefits to green space, I’d still go for weekly hikes. I’d still camp with my family. I’d still go snowboarding every winter. I’d still walk barefoot in the cool dewy grass in my yard every morning.

Wouldn’t you?

What about you? How do you currently (or plan to) incorporate green spaces into your life?

Thanks for reading, all.

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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. How about a list of ways that green space harms the health of the population?

    Manhattan has very little green space. Most people that live there are skinny because they don’t drive everywhere like just about everybody else in America. The green space that it does have is awesome (Central Park).

    American suburbs have a lot of green space (around the 50% mark in many of them). A majority of people that live there are overweight. Most of the green space is almost completely useless for the purposes listed above. Very occasionally backyards are used for recreational purposes, but the front lawn almost never is. Lots of “green” space is taken up by boulevards and set backs.

    Bryan Larsen wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.

      Vegetation is pleasing to many people and that is a positive. Trees are particularly special and here are some of the positives of them:

      http://www.treesaregood.com/treecare/resources/benefits_trees.pdf

      You can also chop them up and get warm whilst watching the flames for therapeutic purposes.

      However, ponder this.

      It costs a lot of money to manage vegetation in urban areas and some money to manage the wild for visitor-access. It uses lots of fossil fuels, currently, to manage urban trees. It uses lots of fossil fuels to drive to the wild, considering the percentage of urban dwellers. So less grass fed stuff for one’s health if on a budget.

      In my experience, people love trees until they cost too much. I am not a health expert, but I do know about some things professionally, and if one transfers the failings of effective tree management across the board, eg health lies, the conflicting views and the power to destroy one’s self is probably a result of capitalism, amongst other things. Everyone will be sick if the problem is a fundamental of life. I won’t disagree, though, that Mark is trying to help people cope in the fake, domestic world we are in (most of us), for a wage of course 😉

      Kit wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • trololo, and next you’re going to say that GMO corn is inexpensive and we should all eat that, right?

        raydawg wrote on October 3rd, 2014
    • Good grief, Bryan. If people don’t take advantage of green space such as front yards, that is a poor choice, Not evidence that “green space harms the health of the population”. Are you seriously trying to imply causation between American suburban green space and overweight? Maybe you just want to see how many people will bite on your post. Please learn more about scientific method, correlation & causation. At the very least, troll somewhere else.

      Geckotreefrog wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • Actually there is more than just correlation in what Brian is referring, but the link isn’t the green space itself; it is how it is done.

        People don’t use those spaces because of the overall layout. Look into the work of Christopher Alexander and Jane Jacobs for the details. It isn’t just a matter of the space being available, nor is this a recent development. Alexander in particular did quite a lot of work researching the patterns and how spaces are used.

        Simply placing green space isn’t really compelling, we need a reason to be in the space. American suburbs are terribly laid out with regards to this as the planners have ignored how we use spaces in favor of how they think we should.

        TheRealBill wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • Bill, you’re way over-analyzing the whole thing. People don’t necessarily need to be “in” the green spaces in order to enjoy them and to spiritually benefit from them.

          Shary wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • Shary I wasn’t analyzing anything, so I think you replied to the wrong person. I merely pointed out there is a causal link between how spaces are organized and their usage. I made no comment either way regarding the benefits of “green spaces”, so any inference of such would have been on your end.

          As spiritual benefits are not quantifiable I don’t discuss claims of the them. Indeed the discussion wasn’t about spiritual benefits or lack thereof but about physical state which is measurable and can be used in causal analysis.

          Essentially you can not simply say “here is a park now go use it” or the same with a yard. People, as a whole, need a reason beyond “it is there” to walk anywhere. Witness the low usage leves for yourself if you need to to verify this is the case. And it isn’t an American quality.

          For example, I’m in London this week, right next to plenty of parks. Never more than a handful of people in them have I seen, just as you see in the states.

          Give people a reason to walk from a to b and they will. Just put b out there and say “go walk there” and they won’t. Those that will quite likely would have been out walking somewhere anyway.

          The Real Bill wrote on October 2nd, 2014
      • +1. You made all the same points I was going to make. If nothing else, green yards are lovely eye candy. They also add to your property value. How silly that anyone would think they contibute to obesity.

        Shary wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • My point was better made by Coco lower down.

        Yes, I’m trying to imply causation between American suburban green space and obesity. You can yell “correlation isn’t causation” all you want, but finding a correlation is usually the first step in proving causation.

        Mark has written lots of articles saying that everybody should walk more, and I’m saying that a good way of doing that is to put the places where people want to be within walking distance of where they are.

        I’m not saying that we should get rid of useful green space like parks and back yards, but a very significant portion of urban land is taken up by “useless” green space like setbacks, those strips of grass that separate every building in the burbs, grass put down just so we can fit square houses on curved streets, et cetera.

        Bryan Larsen wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • I agree!

          (I sent a response to your original post before seeing this one.)

          Dina wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • -1 (and rolling my eyes).

          Your logic is skewed. I don’t know what makes you think people don’t walk where there are “useless” green spaces. Where I live we have plenty of sidewalks and hiking and bike trails, etc., as well as many, many green spaces. It’s the best of both worlds. BTW, obesity is caused by eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods–NOT by “useless” greenery.

          Walking is a matter of choice. Some people would rather sit in front of the TV and stuff their faces, whether their front yard is green or not. People living in a concrete jungle are no more likely to be thin or healthy than anywhere else.

          Shary wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • Green spaces help fight the rise of carbon–that should be of interest to global warming fanatics.

        You’re welcome, Mark.

        Wenchypoo wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • Hi Bryan, your issue seems to be with the suburban layout and not green space, correct? I don’t like the suburbs either. I think that they are unhealthy because they encourage inactivity and too much dependence on the almighty automobile; and they don’t make good use of the land. It actually angers me that suburbs were ever developed. I’d prefer walkable city-like towns (big and small) with some greenery left in and that have fairly easy access to the green space the location/land offers – parks, trails, mountains, rivers, beach, etc.

      I live in a suburb and try to make the best of it by enjoying the green spaces around me and nearby with walks and hikes. It helps me to keep my sanity for the next time I have to get in my car to run errands.

      Dina wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • I take your point, your typical suburban lawns and the landscaping around big box stores and along streets are the empty calories of green space. They are ornamental and pretty much useless. You usually cannot function in that environment without driving everywhere.

      As you say, in San Francisco there is very little green space but a relatively fit and active population participating in various sports and walking daily. Ultimately the health of a population depends more on it’s education and motivation than on it’s surroundings. The only reason I kept a vehicle when I lived there was to haul my windsurf and ski gear to the beach and Tahoe.

      Bayrider wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Much suburban green space with its pesticide ladened and artificially fertilized soil as well as its general lack of diversity probably is less healthful than even the petro-solvent saturated air of the asphalt surrounding it. So much of it doesn’t qualify to be called green, except for its color frequency. Give me the woods and the mountains.

      John Caton wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • Too right! Does anyone ever stop to think how the green spaces stay so gloriously, uniformly, weedlessly green? (With a little help from Monsanto we can have ourselves a Roundup, yipee-ki-ay!)

        I’ve lived in urban, suburban and rural areas and there are healthy and unhealthy aspects to all three.

        –I’ve done most of my walking while living in cramped city flats (without a car or bicycle) and loved it (except for the particulates in the air and yearly bouts of bronchitis);
        –I’ve done most of my gardening while living in the suburbs and loved it (except when the neighbours treated their lovely green lawns with Roundup);
        –I’ve done most of my exploration of nature while living in the country surrounded by acres of magnificent forests and loved it (except for the yokels who leave their empty tinnies and nylon fishing line on the stream banks).

        We know what the downsides are to urban and suburban living: “petro-solvent saturated air” as John mentions above, and the heavy use of herbicides and pesticides, actually the whole A-Z of toxins, including one of my own bugaboos, scented laundry products.

        But what about country living? Many forests — both public and private — are routinely sprayed with highly toxic herbicides to kill the undergrowth that competes with seedlings, and forest critters that like to nibble on the seedlings – in short, anything that threatens the profitability of the lumber and paper industries. This is done by helicopter, often at night, so the herbicides drift far and wide and affect everyone and everything in the surrounding areas. Loggers have always known about the spraying, but they don’t say anything for fear of losing their jobs. By the way, if you ask the US Forest Service about the spraying, they will deny it. No surprises there.

        I don’t think anybody here is denying that greenery and nature are good for us, that’s obvious. But before we get all Pollyanna about it, let’s stop and think about the dirty little secrets behind those lush lawns, immaculate green spaces, and majestic forests.

        And then, perhaps, ask what we can do to fix it….

        SumoFit wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • All I can say is, move to another country, where green spaces are maintained by mother nature.

          Dwayne wrote on October 2nd, 2014
        • Dwayne: “All I can say is, move to another country, where green spaces are maintained by mother nature.”

          And where, pray tell, would that be? Not NZ, as I believe y’all are in the middle of a massive aerial spraying of forestlands from Sept. 10th – Nov. 30th!

          SumoFit wrote on October 2nd, 2014
        • I propose legislation prohibiting all outdoor, non-medical use of chemical *cides manufactured, produced or synthesized, directly or indirectly, by humans. That includes herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and all subcategories thereof. (anything I missed?).

          It may never be passed.

          More practical: I vow (again) never to use any *cide on my property for non-medical reasons, with the exception of outright sterilization.

          BillC wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.

      Vegetation is pleasing to many people and that is a positive. Trees are particularly special and here are some of the positives of them:

      SEARCH trees are good – treecare – resources – benefits of trees pdf

      You can also chop them up and get warm whilst watching the flames for therapeutic purposes.

      However, ponder this.

      It costs a lot of money to manage vegetation in urban areas and some money to manage the wild for visitor-access. It uses lots of fossil fuels, currently, to manage urban trees. It uses lots of fossil fuels to drive to the wild, considering the percentage of urban dwellers. So less grass fed stuff for one’s health if on a budget.

      In my experience, people love trees until they cost too much. I am not a health expert, but I do know about some things professionally, and if one transfers the failings of effective tree management across the board, eg health lies, the conflicting views and the power to destroy one’s self is probably a result of capitalism, amongst other things. Everyone will be sick if the problem is a fundamental of life. I won’t disagree, though, that Mark is trying to help people cope in the fake, domestic world we are in (most of us); for a wage of course ;-)

      Kit wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • True! Maybe “green” could be amended to “wild”.

      dmunro wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • Yes, wild would also include those who prefer to be on the ocean or in the desert!

        SumoFit wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Here in New Zealand traditionally the front yards are smallish but the back yards are large, and it’s there we played and did sports with the neighbourhood kids, Our Mums (Moms) and Dads knew we were safe (fenced in the back half of the section), and our parents made friends with each other.

      Perhaps US architects and developers need to move the houses closer to the footpaths (sidewalks).

      I have lived in London, UK and in 3rd world Latin America. One of the things I missed the most was the outdoors. Even Hyde Park and Hamstead Heath in London weren’t enough for this Kiwi (New Zealander). So I 100% agree with Mark. I am so much happier being able to run in the parks, and to walk through the forests here, than I ever was and could be in the big cities.

      I definitely carry less fat around my waist by utilising the green spaces here in N.Z.

      Thanks for the article Mark.

      Dwayne wrote on October 2nd, 2014
      • Perhaps US architects and developers need to move the houses closer to the footpaths (sidewalks).

        Blame local zoning ordinances–developers and architects have nothing to do with house location on the lot. The city or state tells them where the setbacks are.

        I once owned a house in TX on 2 large lots, with the house smack in the middle of it all. That means I had 4 yards to mow: 2 side yards, 1 enormous front yard, and 1 enormous back yard. Mowing took me (in the heat) 2 days. Who’s idea of zoning and setbacks was THAT? That’s what the city dictated for a corner lot. I could’ve easily subdivided and sold off a lot if the house weren’t in the exact center!

        Wenchypoo wrote on October 2nd, 2014
      • This sounds like Australia and Ireland as well — tiny or small front yard and larger backyard, and they aren’t (or used not to be) so obsessed with perfect grass.

        SumoFit wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • Brian: comparing Manhattanites who walk a lot, to suburbanites who mainly drive everywhere is only proving that activity level can affect peoples weight. I do not understand what you mean by asking about listing all the harms green space can do…

      Btw, great article, Mark. We moved to a more rural area at the end of August from a place that was right beside a very busy and very noisy expressway. The difference already is amazing and wonderful 😀

      Tee Dee wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • The main issue is if people actually utilize that green space not if it is there or not. If people in suburbia (I am one) don’t use their backyard then that is a personal choice. I play with my kids as much as possible outside instead of plopping down in front of the tv for hours on end like a vegetable. i want my kids ot climb trees, get dirty and explore.

      A lot of people who live in the city walk b/c they have no choice due to economics and traffic which can have its positives but you’re also living in a more congested and polluted area. i lived in a major city and loved it but I personally prefer living with more space and less congestion.

      Matthew Forrester wrote on October 9th, 2014
  2. Green spaces are my religion.

    Erica wrote on October 1st, 2014
  3. I’ve always felt better in the woods with the smell of pine than in any other place.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on October 1st, 2014
  4. I have to say that I’m completely torn on this. I LOVE green spaces and nature and trees and everything but I hate to be dependant on my car.

    Places where you can have both advantages are rare. I live right by 2 rivers and 2 parks and it’s awesome but I live 10 km from the nearest public market too. I would love to move nearer but I just can’t give up my green spot.

    Coco wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • +1 moving into a town for that very reason, but with a large wood/park in walking distance

      Elizabeth wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • We live in a small village in the eastern US where you can walk to everything needed on a regular basis. School, grocery, bank, pharmacy, church, library, work, etc. There is a winding creek that runs through town with a waterfall. Out west they would call our creek a river. Our property has lots of greenery, park like really, and the walk to town has the road on one side and the creek on the other at least part of the way. There is also a wooded trail linking one park to another that follows the creek and is quite isolated even though it is still in the village. All ideal for us.

      The primary disadvantage is the 20 minute drive (through mostly farm land) to the big nearby city for cultural events and occasional shopping. I especially don’t like the drive at night or in the winter. Mass transit would be nice but I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

      Sharon wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • Flood risks?

        Wenchypoo wrote on October 2nd, 2014
        • I think there was a flood in some parts of the village when a hurricane came this far inland back in the early 1970’s which was before we moved here. Our town is south of Lake Ontario in NY. We live out of the flood zone but in the lowest part of our neighborhood so I suppose we could get flooded if some system hung over us for an unusually long time. We had some pretty good rains this year, some areas flooded but not the village or us however, we always say. If you live by the water, it will eventually come and get you.

          Sharon wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  5. A year ago, moved to a region where it snows some, but is mostly bare. Last fall, I stuck some toothpicks in a yam and plopped it in a jar of water on the kitchen counter. Over the winter, I got a surprising amount of enjoyment by observing the procession of emerald green leaves and “vines” climbing up the wall and over the back of the counter. At times it was the only green living thing around besides some sparse-looking pine trees, which don’t do it for me.

    When spring came I planted it outside, and it has spread all over in a beautiful mat, and currently looks fantastic.

    I just started another one yesterday. There’s still time, and it’s easy and fun!

    Monikat wrote on October 1st, 2014
  6. I was about to head to the gym for some biking and rowing, but I think I will go for a jog instead! Thanks for the reminder. :)

    Kristi Horine wrote on October 1st, 2014
  7. This gets so tough in the winter, although I find that just getting outdoors no matter how cold it is can have positive effects as well.

    Michele wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • This must be why my cats insist on going outside, even when it’s twenty degrees, and there’s 8″ of snow on the ground. They may not get that far, but they still want out the front door.

      Wenchypoo wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  8. Mark – you should do a post on creating indoor green “spaces.” There are plants that oxygenate the air (while you sleep), like spider plants. Some tropical plants “scrub” the air of toxins. Great for unhealthy buildings and homes (with off-gassing from building materials, carpets, furniture, etc.). There are recommendations for how many per room, etc.

    Kim wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Kim, You seem to have hit on something much more pragmatic than a lot of these comments. Essentially plants take our carbon monoxide and transform it into oxygen which we desperately need. Perhaps this is the most fundamental benefit of forest bathing or green spaces – getting away from artificial structures to a place where the dominant earth cover is plants.

      Another benefit that hasn’t been quantified or expressed is walking on dirt – whether barefoot or in shoes. It seems to be so much more renewing than walking or moving on asphalt or concrete.

      Bill wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • What the plants take from us is carbon DIOXIDE, not monoxide. Monoxide would probably suffocate them, too.

        Susan wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • Thank, obviously I’m oxygen deprived

          Bill wrote on October 1st, 2014
  9. These are all reasons why I insist on maintaining grass, trees, and bushes in my yard. A lawn is a pain in the butt; you have to mow it, fertilize it, and water it (at least where I live). As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it. Some of my neighbors have gone the rock-and-xeriscape route because outdoor watering has gotten to be expensive, but a yard that looks like the desert isn’t my cuppa tea. Green yards are are way more inviting and uplifting than the alternatives.

    Shary wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Monsanto will love you!

      SumoFit wrote on October 1st, 2014
      • Probably not. We don’t use any of their stuff. There are other ways to take care of grass, you know. (Or maybe you don’t know.)

        Shary wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • I do know but don’t care — xeriscaping is so much prettier, and more natural and interesting.

          “The grass lawn is not so much a choice as an imposition—a legacy borne of vanity and avarice that evolved into conformity in the name of community.”

          SumoFit wrote on October 1st, 2014
        • SumoFit, I think most people would disagree with you, but to each his own. It’s what makes life interesting.

          Shary wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  10. I can attest that getting out for a walk around the nearby park helps ease my depression. I feel like it’s a mixture of the sun exposure and vitamin D along with the exposure to nature, and social interaction (lots of people around with their dogs and children). Just getting out to the pool area to soak up some sun also has a positive effect, even though it is much less green and there are no other people or animals there.

    Megan wrote on October 1st, 2014
  11. I just moved to the California suburbs from NYC, where there’s much more green space and hiking trails that I’ve been taking advantage of. I’m sure there are many other things that factor into it, but I feel like my stress and anxiety levels have gone down. Also – I’ve been sleeping so much better. Thanks for the great article!

    Primal Health with Jean wrote on October 1st, 2014
  12. Unfortunately, where I live, it’s only green for 5 months out of the year. I try to get my dog out for walks in the winter but sometimes it’s even too cold and snowy for her. I have several indoor plants that I can’t live without and take 2 trips each winter to someplace warmer. I also take a vitamin D supplement. However, I’m seriously considering moving to a more mild climate.

    Treana wrote on October 1st, 2014
  13. Thanks Mark, for this great article, and confirming what most people should intuitively know.
    I can leave my home & be in the desert or hills immediately, so I’m grateful.
    But I still enjoy riding the PS tram up to the forest, at 8,500 ft. and communing with the trees.
    I guide people to these beautiful places, and constantly hear how enjoyable, peaceful, rejuvenating, exhilarating being in nature, moving is!

    And, besides the air-born particle communication, Paul Stammets Ted Talks describes how an underground inter-connection of tiny fibers links the plants & trees.
    Thanks again for this,
    Scott 2

    Scott 2 wrote on October 1st, 2014
  14. Since moving to the country 5 years ago, every element of our life has improved! Mental health is steady, sleep is deep and restful (until we had a baby…), but my favorite development is that my husband and I have cultivated a deep joy and excitement for each day living amidst the wild land. We have a few acres of forest that can immediately calm us right down if there is too much chaos in the air.

    http://songofourheritage.blogspot.com

    Kirsten wrote on October 1st, 2014
  15. I get a LITTLE green space everyday in the form of my lunch walk. We have a nice little walkway down the middle of our parking lot with trees on both sides. Not much, but it helps.

    Jacob wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • One day, when I was feeling really stressed at the office, I grabbed my coffee cup, refilled it (I find coffee soothing) and went outside and leaned against smallish a tree behind the office while I drank it. By time the cup was empty, I was feeling quite calm. A couple of folks heading to their cars probably thought i was nuts, but I don’t care.

      b2curious wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  16. That is probably why I feel so relaxed pottering about in my small garden amongst the flowers and vegetables for a couple of hours. Especially when the sun is shinning.
    Dancing barefoot on grass on a sunny afternoon is also great. The country dancing group I go to sometimes manages to do this in the summer. The garden we do this in is bordered by lots of trees as well. But sometimes this is impossible because the grass is too wet. I live in the UK.

    Diana wrote on October 1st, 2014
  17. In science, “laws” remain always PROVISIONAL and always PERFECTIBLE. Scientists actually EXPECT MODIFICATION with further advancements………

    Sweet Jessica wrote on October 1st, 2014
  18. check this out: http://vimeo.com/27874539 – (biophilic design)

    we as humans have a deep connection with nature – maintaining that connection is key!

    Tony wrote on October 1st, 2014
  19. Green?
    How about brown? Living in a desert, we don’t get much green.

    As it is, I end up walking my dog before sunrise and after sunset. Not much in the way of colors at those times.

    Kai Ponte wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Kai, desert brown and northeast beach gray are “green” too! It’s all nature; and healing if you like that particular environment.

      Dina wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • The desert has beautiful colours, even if the greens are a bit scarce!

      SumoFit wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • My husband goes to work in the dark, and comes home in the dark–other than home, the only “green” he’s exposed to is a rose bush someone planted outside the office building (military base) as a gesture toward landscaping (I guess).

      At home, we have a large backyard with lots of St. Augustine grass (a native–needs NO work other than mowing! Takes moisture from the air), a 30-year-old pecan tree, and our neighbor’s extra lot be bought behind his own backyard–he planted it with fruit trees and a garden, and he gets avian visitors galore (thanks to multitudes of bird feeders and suet blocks), squirrels, and stray cats. The squirrels also visit my tree at nut-harvest time (which should be happening about now). Both the neighbors and we enjoy the little bit of space from the 2-story houses gong up all around us–god help us if they ever decide to sell that back lot!

      Wenchypoo wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  20. I figured out about the need for green many years ago when I was living in an apartment that had no grass, just a couple of yuccas and a lot of concrete and asphalt. So I’d go over to my parents’ house and sit on the grass and talk to my mother while she hung the laundry out to get the fix of green I needed.

    The nice thing about green is that it doesn’t have to be lawn or trees to be effective. We live in the desert and spend a lot of time at a local park where we also volunteer. There it is a combination of the plants, birds and lizards, as well as the huge rocks we climb on that we find restorative. Being in nature is the best restorative we have.

    Susan wrote on October 1st, 2014
  21. To all the “over analyzers” – if you don’t get it, then it could be you missed the whole fundamental point of the primal way of life. It could be quite possible that you confused yourself with god…

    Storm wrote on October 1st, 2014
  22. I know after I spend some time in the woods I always feel better. Heck leaving and heading back is difficult. I just want to live in woods in a hammock and hunt wild bacon

    James Burnette wrote on October 1st, 2014
    • Pre-sliced? 😛

      Wenchypoo wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  23. If youre run down or stressed out it’s amazing what a walk in the woods or away from a city can do for your well-being.
    I’ve been interested in the concept of earthing where you’re going barefoot on grass and dirt where ions from the soil help with all those benefits in the body. And it’s effective for use with jet lag and helping balance circadian rhythms when traveling and in different countries

    -Jamie

    Jamie Logie wrote on October 1st, 2014
  24. Yes Mark, point is confirmed. Concrete jungles are detrimental to our sanity. After leaving Louisville, KY working in a park of 4,000 acres to an office in Austin, TX, my sanity level has decreased slightly and would continue to do so unless I force myself to be outside as much as possible.

    Evan Brand wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  25. How timely! The past week my spouse and I were discussing our vague plan to move in a few years and one of the major downfalls I see in moving to Toronto is the relative lack of greenspace, compared to say Vancouver or Calgary, let alone the rural town in which we currently live. We ended up talking about different neighbourhoods, specifically about the amount of green space available, because I do not want to live in a concrete jungle that is removed from all things green.
    A friend lives in London and is frequently posting pictures that mock what counts as a “park,” usually a single tree with a 10’x10′ patch of grass. Thankfully they also have some giant green spaces like Hyde Park, but they are few and far between versus incorporated on most streets.

    Anne wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  26. “Green space” in the context of this post, seems to be bad nomenclature. Green space is a term traditionally used in urban planning denoting open spaces with grass, trees, and plants, etc.. Green spaces make the city more livable. Green spaces within a city when they are rendered by visionaries, like Central Park in New York, or are more naturally occurring as Stanley Park in Vancouver, at their best moments, can trick the eye into believing one is completely enveloped by nature, a land beyond urban or suburban development.

    Green spaces in one’s backyard are great, too. But perhaps, they should be considered separately as they are typically the height of the human domestication of nature. Wild or natural spaces (where I come from they are usually green but need not necessarily be so) are something more. I think they resonate more powerfully with our primal being and thus more readily produce the benefits mentioned in this post.

    I think the idea that green is good, and green spaces are good, has confused the broader issue that undeveloped land or wild spaces or nature, is also good, but perhaps in different ways. I’m not really sure of all the implications of separating nature from its green-ness. Any ideas on this? Still a rich vein to be mined, and as one who has benefitted profoundly with regular immersion in nature beyond urban green space, one benefitting of further exploration.

    Mark Hinnawi wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • You bring up the thought of golf courses. My husband who likes to play golf always comments on how beautiful they are. I find them too manicured. I seem to be drawn to the wild spaces. People love golf but I don’t really know if the physical course has anything to do with their love. I think many courses are home to lots of pesticides although I think I read somewhere that some are trying to cut down. They certainly are huge green spaces.

      At home, my flower garden is a mix of wild and controlled. Disturbing to some but most people find it beautiful. We have large windows that overlook the hedgerow that is wild. We have a wild space in the back yard that has a path through it. My vegetable garden has lots of curves and is enclosed in a fence that is sorta hexagonal but not exactly. We also have an unruly lawn that is never watered or fertilized. Barely tolerated by the neighbors, me thinks.

      Sharon wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • “Green spaces within a city when they are rendered by visionaries…at their best moments, can trick the eye into believing one is completely enveloped by nature…”

      Beautiful! I agree that “green spaces” is a poor choice of words. It conjures up images of immaculate lawns, golf courses, and urban/suburban areas that are set aside to look like nature, but that are really only sterile monocultures.

      You need not only the “green” of nature, but also the greys, browns, yellows, oranges, purples, blues, reds, blacks, etc. A green lawn (monoculture) that doesn’t attract and sustain animal life is not much better than a patch of asphalt — and you don’t have to fertilise, water and mow the asphalt.

      How about every time we see “green spaces” in this post, we read “wild spaces”?

      SumoFit wrote on October 2nd, 2014
    • I think its important to not miss the forest for the trees in marks message…

      Storm wrote on October 3rd, 2014
  27. “Going to the woods is going home.” John Muir

    “We are only human in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.” David Abram

    Mark,

    I’m so glad to see you give a nod to interspecies (and interkingdom) communication.

    CW arrogantly deems nature as a static backdrop, a stage for the drama of the human mind. In reality, it is, of course, a community, a living family with a collective intelligence that DWARFS the ivory towers of human cognition and analysis–our paltry, stale slice of laboratory knowledge.

    Give attention to the more-than-human world, and you’ll find yourself showered in real wealth and health. As Wordsworth put it, “Nature never did betray the heart that loved Her.”

    For anyone interested in a mesmerizing trip down the rabbit hole of the natural origin of human cognition and language, the intrinsically communal phenomenon of perception, and the seductive (and urgent) call of nature for us (humans) to return to our senses, do yourself a favor and check out David Abram’s “Spell of the Sensuous”.

    Kevin Hatch wrote on October 2nd, 2014
  28. I’m torn on this, too, because I love nature but hate vehicle dependency. I agree with a lot of people here who comment about urbanites being slimmer because they walk more. I certainly get a lot of enjoyment out of being able to commute in any way other than driving!

    When I’ve had to stay in NYC for work, I absolutely loved being able to walk or catch the subway. I would go running with coworkers down to Central Park for our “daily greens,” but then on the way back we would have sprint races where we would run as fast as we can through as many green lights as we could before we hit a “Do Not Walk” sign. Dodging pedestrians, bikes, and garbage cans is every bit as fun as trail running!

    Now I work near Honolulu, and one would think that with as beautiful as Hawai’i is, it would be bike and pedestrian friendly, but only the downtown area is. Once you get into the suburbs, you can’t walk anywhere safely. I ended up moving to the other side of the island and accepting a half-hour commute (yeah, yeah, not that bad compared to some other people’s commutes) just so I could live in a community where I could still walk around. So once again, I’m dependent on my car so I can live in an area with more nature and more walking. I wish it didn’t have to be such a trade-off.

    At least I can stare at the rainbows on my drive home… 😛

    Deanna wrote on October 3rd, 2014
  29. I work and live in Gary, IN and despite abandoned urban infrastructure and belching steel mills, there is an amazing diversity of birds at the south end of the Great Lakes system. A mosaic of restored wetlands, prairies and oak savannahs seem to provide enough wild habitat to keep nature from collapsing, perhaps even thriving. It’s all pretty amazing and quite a uniquely beautiful place to be. It surely beats chicago, 35 miles to the north and that is strictly due to the interface with “green” space.

    mary wrote on October 5th, 2014
  30. This is an excellent and interesting post and (as long as I’ve been living a lot in green space) I’m living proof of all the facts. The benefits of being in green space are profound.
    I have court in a month and I’ll probably be jailed for a month or around there so I’m going to take advantage of the rest of the nicer weather of the year and spend a decent amount of time in nature and work out / be active and eat well so that I’m in good enough condition to get through a month of bad food in an unhealthy setting. Then it will be winter when I’m out but I think I’ll still go for walks in the forest sometimes.
    I like the wild / near wild and streets and sidewalks can get so monotonous and dreary. I like frequent subtle variations in my difference to sea level and to have to improvise and face challenges and obstacles in order to ambulate.

    Animanarchy wrote on October 7th, 2014
  31. We spend a lot of time outdoors here in the great state of Georgia. We live in the suburbs and have ample green space to explore. Whether or not you use the greenspace is a personal choice. I choose to use mine and allow my kids to walk in the woods, play in creeks b/c its a great way to exercise the body but also the mind. I try to teach my kids as much as possible about the plant life, animals and what is good and not so good. We use technology to look up things we don’t know or understand so we get a good mixture of both worlds.

    Matthew Forrester wrote on October 9th, 2014
  32. In Singapore, what they refer to as a “green space” is a smoking area, which is kind of ironic. Then again, the whole of Singapore is green in an environmental perspective.

    Nic wrote on February 21st, 2015
  33. what is your favorite colour

    Ethan Hunter wrote on April 27th, 2015
  34. I’ve been maintaining lawns organically for many years now. I started loving the maintenance part of it. But many years ago I realized that most people don’t enjoy their own yards. It is all about how it looks. However, the families that are following an organic approach, they are definitely more in tune with nature. They are happy to be outside playing in the yard, and really enjoying everything about it, from dandelions to purslane, or even getting chickens so they can run around the yard.
    I wish people could see the yard as a place to learn, and play, and grow food.

    Javi wrote on April 15th, 2016

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