Living near nature can boost mental and physical health in older people, a new study reveals.
Researchers showed that having just 10 percent more forest space in a person’s postcode was associated with reduced serious psychological distress.
This is defined as mental health problems that require treatment and interfere with people’s social lives, work, or school.
Similarly, a 10 percent increase in green space, tree cover, water bodies or trail length lowered the chance that older people reported their general health as poor or fair.
The team specifically focused on older people due to their increased vulnerability to mental health issues such as depression, which has been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and their decreased likelihood of seeking help for mental health.
First author Adithya Vegaraju, a medical student at Washington State University, said: “Older adults with depression, anxiety or mental health issues are known to be more resistant to medical interventions or talk therapy, which are the go-to treatments for these conditions.
“If exposure to green or blue spaces could help prevent, delay or even treat poor mental health in older adults, we need to look at that more closely as a way to improve mental health outcomes in this population.
“Our findings suggest that loss of our urban green and blue spaces due to rapid urbanization may not just have an environmental impact but could have a public health impact as well.”
To get their results, published in the journal Health & Place, the team studied health survey data from more than 42,000 people aged 65 and older who lived in urban areas of Washington state between 2011 and 2019.
They considered many factors such as distance to the closest green and blue space, the percentage of green space, tree canopy, forest area, open space, and the length of trails.
They found that close to two percent of respondents showed signs of serious psychological distress and 19 percent reported having fair or poor general health.
Having more green and blue space in your area significantly reduces the chances of falling into these categories.
Assistant Professor Solmaz Amiri is hoping to research this link further, specifically studying the relationship between natural exposure and cognitive decline.
She added: “It is thought that exposure to green and blue spaces could help slow cognitive decline.
“What we would like to know is if green and blue space exposure can influence dementia directly or whether it can do so by reducing mental health issues that may lead to cognitive decline.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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