Green space - the key to health

 People living in relatively green environments feel healthier. A current study now confirms they actually are healthier. More green space in living environments results in fewer visits to the doctor with complaints such as depression, diabetes, COPD and dizziness. Benefits are especially pronounced among people from lower socio-economic bands, children and the elderly, according to researcher Jolanda Maas. Maas will be presenting her doctoral thesis on research into ‘Vitamin G’ and the health benefits of green space on February 20th at the Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Lower stress levels
What many people have felt intuitively has now been proven through large scale epidemiological research. The results can, according to Maas, mainly be explained by the fact that people who spend more time in a green living environment recover quicker from stress. But ‘physical activity’ and ‘social contact’ are also important explanatory factors for the healing powers of green space. People with more green space in their living environment garden more often and are more likely to cycle to work. Furthermore, they tend to feel less isolated and less frequently experience a shortage of social support.

Green space as a medication
“Green space is more than just a luxury product”, argues Maas, “it actively promotes health”. Plus, people feel safer when they live in a greener living environment. These sorts of findings point to the need for green space to be allocated a more central position in spatial planning policy.
Furthermore, the health benefits of green space should be more integrated into mainstream health care. GPs could, for instance, advise patients to take more active exercise in green environments. Additionally, all health care facilities, nursing or care homes should have gardens where patients, residents or visitors can enjoy some ‘green medicine’.

How was it investigated?
The doctoral thesis that Jolanda Maas is now presenting is part of a larger research programme called Vitamin G. This programme was supported by a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and was executed by NIVEL (the Netherlands institute for health services research) and Alterra, the research institute for our green living environment (which is part of the Wageningen University and Research Centre). For this research results of the second Dutch National Survey of General Practice (DNSGP-2) which contains information on peoples’ health were combined with data from the National Landcover Classification Database (LGN4) which contains information on the amount of green space in the living environment.