Give your heart a boost – go outside

By June Shannon Heart News   |   9th Jul 2018

Its official, getting out in the fresh air is good for your heart and it may even reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.

This was the finding from a new study by researchers in the UK that found that living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits.

The study, by scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK, has suggested that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress and high blood pressure.

People who have higher levels of exposure to green spaces, such as parks, were also more likely to report good overall health – according to the data, which involved more than 290 million people.

Lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood. We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost.”

The research team studied data from 20 countries including the UK, the US, Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan.

People who have higher levels of exposure to green spaces were also more likely to report good overall health

.

‘Green space’ was defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, which included urban parks and street greenery.

The team analysed how the health of people with little access to green spaces compared to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure.

It found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces was associated with diverse and significant health benefits. These included a reduction in the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth. Exposure to nature also helped to increases sleep duration, the study found.

According to the study, “people living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a physiological marker of stress.”

Although the researchers examined a large body of research on the relationship between greenspace and health, it is still unclear what exactly causes this relationship.

"We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves,"

Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, lead researcher , UEA Norwich Medical School,

However, they suggested that people living near greenspace were likely have more opportunities for physical activity and socialising. Meanwhile, exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas may also have benefits for the immune system and reduce inflammation.

The research team said they hoped their findings would prompt doctors and other healthcare professionals to recommend that patients spend more time outside in nature.

Twohig-Bennett said: “We hope that this research will inspire people to get outside more and feel the health benefits for themselves. Hopefully our results will encourage policymakers and town planners to invest in the creation, regeneration, and maintenance of parks and greenspaces, particularly in urban residential areas and deprived communities that could benefit the most.”

One great way to spend more time engaged with nature is by walking the Irish Heart Foundation’s Sli na Slainte routes, check out the one nearest you today.

Walking is a near perfect form of physical activity; it’s free, family friendly, suitable for all fitness levels and a great exercise for improving our heart health.

Slí na Sláinte meaning Path to Health, aims to encourage people of all ages and abilities to walk more for health and leisure.

‘The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes’ is published in the journal Environmental Research.

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diabetes exercise healthy living high blood pressure sli na slainte

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