Green Spaces Heal

2022-09-14

 |  Health/Lifestyle

The onset of the pandemic brought to light an unrelenting truth: humans need green spaces to thrive. It was only in times where we were supposed to confine ourselves to our homes to socially distance that so many people truly recognized the detrimental effects of existing in a manufactured space. 

The fact is that the pollution, artificial noise, and unnatural lighting bombarding us at all hours of the day puts a strain on our internal functions and wellbeing; this could be why many people’s mediums of relaxation and activities to unwind are unconsciously steeped in green spaces. Whether it be sitting in a park, volunteering at your community garden, or strolling along a trail, there is something about being outdoors in greenery that induces a calming effect and puts our minds at ease. 

Even healthcare professionals recognize green spaces as therapeutic landscapes, with Vancouver-based family physician, Dr. Lem, initiating “A Prescription for Nature,” or PaRx. This project empowers physicians to prescribe their patients with time in nature, around two hours a week. As Canada’s first evidence-based nature prescription program, the PaRx website lists numerous “side effects” of being in nature, including, but not limited to, living longer, increased energy, better mood, reduced stress and anxiety, pain reduction, and improved heart health. 

To dive deeper into the benefits, 90% of Canadians said that they were happier when outside, with stress-hormone levels dropping significantly after just 15 minutes of sitting in a forest. Besides reducing risks of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, being immersed in green spaces also boosts memory, creativity, and work satisfaction. 

So if increased and intensified interactions with nature can drastically improve quality of life and health, why are they so sparsely located in some areas? Why do so many modern standards reflect a desire for urban minimalist architecture? Studies show that neighbourhood green space is in rapid decline, with homes built between the years 2009 and 2021 featuring up to 40% less local green space compared to the late 19th and early 20th-century era. Although this may be driven by the pursuit of space efficiency as populations grow, reducing accessibility to plant life and water features (commonly encompassed in the definition of “green spaces”) contributes to the worsening mental health crisis. In fact, by the age of 40, 1 in 2 Canadians will have, or have had, a mental illness. The severity of this phenomenon is unfortunately not reflected in the emphasis we place on therapeutic landscapes, or efforts made to increase Canadians’ awareness of this. 

Most importantly, how can we apply green spaces in our community? As outdoor activities and leisure are now increasingly threatened by the lack of green spaces, it is extremely important to actively advocate for the native species and nature in our own communities. Let your government know that your community values its green spaces. Invest in your local community gardens. Share with others the healing effects green spaces have. And most of all, remember that interacting with any green space is an amazing form of self-care. By protecting ourselves and our environment, we can collectively build resilient communities and work towards a future where all can thrive.

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