I craved fresh air, greenery, and hills during the (almost) 3 years I lived in the Middle East. It was, therefore, fortuitous that I became aware of GoGreenRoutes and a PhD opportunity that would allow me to live on the Emerald Isle! GoGreenRoutes is a Horizon 2020 project focused on nature-based solutions to enhance physical and psychological wellbeing. As a physiotherapist interested in the multi-dimensional nature of health, the opportunity to learn about nature-based solutions within a trans-disciplinary project was appealing.
The COVID-19 pandemic influenced the timing of my move to Ireland and my accommodation search criteria. The ‘work from home’ policy and the potential of numerous self-isolation periods increased my motivation to live in the countryside. ‘A green view’ was top of my accommodation wish list. When I admire the beautiful views from my new home, I appreciate the positive outcome of moving to a new country during a pandemic. I also better understand the reported associations between contact with nature and health.
A healthy view
Greenspace exposure is associated with better self-reported health, decreased risk of adverse health conditions, reduced physiological markers of stress, and improved psychological well-being.(1) Mechanisms for the diverse health benefits associated with nature exposure are only partially understood. Perception of nature is proposed to be restorative – relieving physiological stress and mental fatigue.(2) I can now justify the time I spend looking out of the window when I sit at my computer. The green view is a nice distraction that aids my productivity!
A breath of fresh air
Improved air quality is also a proposed mechanism to account for the health benefits associated with greenspace exposure. My memories of irritated eyes due to the dusty desert air help me appreciate the fresh air of my new environment. Although, a facemask has been useful when the farmers are spreading slurry! There may not be sufficient trees nearby to give my immune system a boost (from inhaling biogenic volatile compounds released by trees(3)) but I am also not suffering from hay fever.
Increased physical activity is another proposed mediator of the relationship between exposure to nature and improved health. Open greenspace can provide a safe, aesthetically pleasing context for increased physical activity. However, in my bucolic neighbourhood, the open greenspace is reserved for cows and I must take my chances with the speeding vehicles on narrow, winding lanes. The evidence-base shows an inconsistent association between nature contact and physical activity levels, and improved health in green neighbourhoods has been reported independent of physical activity levels.(4) Reverse causality must be considered when exploring the role of physical activity in the relationship between greenspace and health. I am a good example of this – undertaking regular physical activity is important to me and I chose to move to a location where I would have easy access to a pleasant green exercise environment.
Not everyone has the option or the desire to relocate to the countryside. Nature-based solutions can facilitate urban residents to benefit from contact with nature. The World Health Organisation recommends that everyone has a greenspace (0.5 ha) within 300m of their home. This would also reduce the need to use carbon-emitting vehicles to get a dose of green goodness.
- Twohig-Bennett C, Jones A. The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environ Res. 2018 Oct;166:628-637.
- Berto R. The role of nature in coping with psycho-physiological stress: a literature review on restorativeness. Behav Sci (Basel). 2014 Oct 21;4(4):394-409.
- Antonelli M, Donelli D, Barbieri G, et al. Forest Volatile Organic Compounds and Their Effects on Human Health: A State-of-the-Art Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Sep 7;17(18):6506.
- Frumkin H, Bratman GN, Breslow SJ, et al. Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Jul 31;125(7):075001.
- The World Health Organisation. Urban green spaces and health. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2016.
Diane Slater is a PhD student in the Department of Physical Education and Sports Sciences, University of Limerick. Funded by GoGreenRoutes Horizon 2020 project and supervised by Prof. Alan Donnelly, Prof. Norma Bargary, and Prof. Giles Warrington. Contact: Twitter Researchgate, ORCID, Linked-In Diane.firstname.lastname@example.org