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Originally published March 11 2010

Nature Heals! Green Spaces Prevent Mental Illness

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) People living closer to green spaces are at significantly lower risk for a wide variety of mental and physical illnesses, according to a study conducted by researchers from the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Researchers examined the health records of 350,000 patients who had been registered with one of 195 general practitioners across the Netherlands for at least one year. Using postal codes, the researchers then calculated the percentage of area within both one and three kilometers (0.62 and 1.86 miles) of their homes that was covered by greenery.

Those living in areas that were 10 percent green in a one kilometer radius had an anxiety disorder rate of 26 per 1,000. In contrast, those with 90 percent of the area green within a one kilometer radius had an anxiety disorder rate of only 18 per 1,000. Likewise, those living in the 10 percent green zone had a depression rate of 32 per 1,000, while those in the 90 percent green zone had a rate of 24 per 1,000.

This translated into a 21 percent lower risk of depression. The effect was strongest among children under the age of 12.

Researchers also tested the effects of proximity to green space on the rates of 24 major physical diseases, finding that the risk of 15 was reduced by more green area. The physical diseases most affected are coronary heart disease, diabetes, asthma, respiratory infections, migraine, stomach infections, urinary tract infections, vertigo, unexplained physical ailments, and back, neck, shoulder, wrist and hand complaints.

While green space only tended to improve health if it was within one kilometer, rates of anxiety, digestive infections, and unexplained physical ailments did decrease in areas with a high proportion of green space within a three kilometer radius.

Scientists believe that green spaces improve air quality, encourage physical activity, help people recover from stress and provide more opportunity for social contact.

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