Green beats blues: Nature prevents stress, anxiety

A couple kisses under blooming cherry blossom trees near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial by the tidal basin in Washington, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. A recent study shows people who are surrounded by green space are happier than those who aren\'t. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — If you find yourself in a good mood among spring’s green grass, budding trees and sprouting flowers, you’re not alone.

A recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found the more green space a neighborhood has, the happier people feel.

Kirsten Beyer, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Institute for Health and Society, says the study examined the amount of ground vegetation and tree canopy present in neighborhoods defined by the census block throughout the state of Wisconsin.

Results from the approximately 2,500-person assessment show areas with more green space had a positive impact on the residents’ state of mental health, specifically in regard to stress, anxiety and depression.

“Essentially [residents had] less depression, less stress and less anxiety across the board,” Beyer says of heavily vegetated areas.

However, those who lived in a neighborhood with less than 10 percent tree canopy were more likely to report symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, regardless of factors such as income level, race, ethnicity and employment, the study found.

Beyer says the study’s results give a nod to the attention restoration theory, which suggests nature gives the mind a break from routine tasks.

“Going into nature and going into natural areas allows us to relax [our] attention; it’s a stress reducer. It allows us to sort of rejuvenate and restore. That has beneficial impacts for mental health,” she says.

While the study did not examine areas outside of Wisconsin, Beyer says its results are applicable to other parts of the country as well. Wisconsin’s varying landscapes — from rural to suburban and urban — are similar to the make-up of other states.

In addition to making the connection between nature and mental health on an individual level, Beyer says the study’s results should be utilized by urban planners and developers.

“I think there’s already a movement underway in a lot of different places to increase the tree canopy, increase nearby nature, even in urban centers,” Beyer says.

“Most people live in cities and that percentage is going to keep going up. So what we need to do in order to connect people with nature is to think about how to green some of our cities.”

In 2013, D.C. was ranked sixth among the 50 largest U.S. cities for park accessibility by the Trust for Public Land. According to the organization’s survey, 96 percent of D.C. residents live within a 10 minute walk of a park, The Washington Post reports.

However, even in cities, such as D.C., that have an abundance of grass, plants and trees, Beyer says more needs to be done to turn empty lots and vacant spaces into usable, green space in areas with limited access to nature.

“I see this as an environmental justice issue, where there are certain populations less able to access green space and nature

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