Does 'greenness' support better health?
Some years ago, a woman told me the secret of how she healed her depression. She said she'd improved her mood by caring for her houseplants! I remember her saying “I love my plants. They inspire me. They want to live!”
Her doctor had wanted to prescribe antidepressant medication, but somehow this lady had discovered her own unique path to healing — caring for her plants. Eventually I lost touch with her, but as far as I know, she never did require medication. She had become an indoor gardener.
This week, I remembered this lady as I was reading some of the fascinating research showing the health benefits of ‘greenness’ — our environmental experience of vegetation.
Science gives us increasing evidence that better health is supported in our experience of the natural world — especially the ‘greenness ‘ of vegetation.
Several studies investigated the psychological benefit of indoor vegetation (like my lady and her houseplants).
A study of elementary students showed higher attention scores in a classroom that had an indoor green wall, And university students scored higher on a reading test when they were reading in office spaces with plants.
A recent study (2023) was extremely simple. Researchers tested the psychological effects of 3 different indoor spaces. Participants were tested after separately experiencing these indoor sites: Site “A” had no natural features, ‘B’ had some indoor vegetation, and Site C had more vegetation plus a view of the sky.
Participants who experienced Site C showed greater ‘restorative’ awareness and improved cognition.
“The higher restorative quality in Site C may be attributed to the density of nature (i.e., more vegetation and sky). This… aligns with existing evidence that more vegetation and sky are positively associated with restorative benefits. “
A 2019 review article “Nature and Mental Health: An Ecosystem Services Perspective” was authored by 26 social scientists and experts in public policy. They concluded:
"A growing body of empirical evidence is revealing the value of nature experience for mental health. With rapid urbanization and declines in human contact with nature globally, crucial decisions must be made about how to preserve and enhance opportunities for nature experience."
A 2011 study discovered less obesity and more physical activity among people living closer to 'greenness'. A 2012 study showed better cardiovascular health, and studies in 2012 and 2014 showed better mental health.
A 2014 analysis of stroke survivors living in the Boston area associated greater exposure to 'greenness' with better survival rates.
And, here’s a study deserving special mention. It gives evidence that women who live closer to ‘greenness’ tend to live longer!
The 2019 study was well-designed and carefully executed by scientists from Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. It analyzed information first collected in the US Nurses Health Study — a remarkable project that tracked the health of thousands of American nurses, extending over decades. That study began in 1976 and continued over 30 years.
Researchers gathered the home addresses of study participants, and then used those addresses to estimate the ‘greenness’ of participants' neighborhoods. How much vegetation did each participant likely experience, day after day? [Note: This 'greenness' of neighborhods was calculated using satellite-based technology that gives images of vegetation patterns around the world.) .
This research showed that those women who lived with the most environmental 'greenness' had a 12% lower death rate than women who lived in the least green environment. These associations were especially strong for respiratory, kidney, and cancer mortality — suggesting the influence of air pollution and other environmental toxins. But other factors seem to have been involved too.
The study’s extensive statistical analysis ruled out the effect of economic differences and other lifestyle factors such as smoking and weight status. But analysis did show that 'greenness' levels were also associated with higher levels of physical activity, social engagement, and mental health.
The researchers concluded:
In this nationwide study of adult women, higher levels of greenness around each participant’s home address were associated with lower rates of all-cause, nonaccidental mortality regardless of adjustment for age, race/ethnicity, smoking status, socioeconomic status.
Our estimates suggest that a large proportion of the association between greenness and mortality may be explained through mental health pathways of depression risk and social engagement, which subsequently affected mortality.
In other words, these results suggest that living with more ‘greenness’ could be good for your health.
Hint: If you’ve seen my videos, you’ve probably seen some of my houseplants!
To your natural happiness!