Regular trips to the park could reduce people's reliance on antidepressants

Visiting green spaces can be beneficial for a person's mental and physical health.
Visiting green spaces can be beneficial for a person's mental and physical health.   -   Copyright  canva
By Charlotte Elton

Visiting green spaces can dramatically lower mental health drug use, research has found.

Dropping into a park, community garden or other urban green space between three and four times a week can cut people’s chances of taking medication for anxiety or depression by a third.

The positive impact - documented by researchers at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare - also extends to physical health.

Visiting green spaces reduces the chances of a city resident having to take asthma or high blood pressure medication by a third and a quarter, respectively.

“Mounting scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of nature exposure is likely to increase the supply of high-quality green spaces in urban environments and promote their active use,” the researchers write.

“This might be one way to improve health and welfare in cities.”

Why are green spaces good for mental health?

More than half of the world’s population live in cities. By 2030, the UN estimates, this figure will rise to 60 per cent of the world’s population - and one in three people will live in a city with over half a million inhabitants.

But a growing body of research suggests that lack of access to nature has a detrimental impact on physical and mental health.

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Central Park in New York is a famous city green space.Canva

Finnish researchers surveyed 16,000 residents from Helsinki and surrounding areas.

The respondents were quizzed on how often they visited green spaces - including not just forests and parks, but wetlands, cemeteries and zoos - and ‘blue areas’ like lakes.

Researchers also collected information from respondents on how many prescription drugs they took. This was used as a general indication of mental and physical health.

The correlation between time in nature and drug use was stark. A resident visiting a green space three or four times a week was 33 per cent less likely to use mental health drugs, and 26 per cent less likely to use asthma drugs.

The impacts were not evenly spread. The impact of green space visits was more pronounced in lower socio economic areas - though people on lower incomes tend to have less access to such spaces.

Are green spaces good for the planet?

Green spaces are good for your health. They’re also great for the planet, and help cities adapt to rising temperatures.

Urban areas - where concrete and asphalt absorb the sun’s rays - act like ‘heat islands’ during summer weather. During heatwaves, the temperature in Paris can climb to up to 10 degrees higher than surrounding countryside areas.

Trees in green spaces provide shade and release cooling moisture into the air.