It’s official, spending time outside is good for you.
Doing so can slash the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and even stress, a major report claims.
Data from almost 300 million people was analysed as part of the review of existing studies delving into nature’s supposed benefits.
Researchers hope the discovery – which backs up years of research – will prompt doctors to recommend patients spend more time in green spaces.
University of East Anglia scientists studied data from 20 countries, including the UK and the US, to make the conclusion.
They also assessed the effect of nature on people in Australia, Europe and Japan – where Shinrin yoku, or forest bathing, is popular.
‘Green space’ was defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation as well as urban greenspaces, such as parks and street greenery.
The team compared the health of people with little access to green spaces to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure.
A diverse range of health benefits from spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces was uncovered.
Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, a PhD student and lead author of the study, admitted they are unsure what causes the benefits found.
She said: ‘Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood.
‘It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration.
People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress.
‘In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol – a marker of stress.
‘This is really important because in the UK, 11.7 million working days are lost annually due to stress, depression or anxiety.’
Miss Twohig-Bennett also suggested that Japan has the ‘right idea’.
The researchers believe people living near greenspace may have more opportunities for physical activity and socialising.
And they say exposure to a diverse variety of bacteria present in natural areas could boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
Inflammation – the body’s response to injury – is heavily linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Japanese studies have shown that phytoncides – organic anti-bacterial compounds – released by trees could provide a health boost.
Professor Andy Jones, co-author of the study, published in the journal Environmental Research, said: ‘We often reach for medication when we’re unwell.
‘But exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognised as both preventing and helping treat disease.
‘Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact.’