People living in areas with more parks, trees and grass live longer and happier lives, with less violence and improved mental and physical health, according to research presented at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.
“Humans are evolved organisms and the environment is our habitat,” lead researcher Frances Kuo said. “Now, as human societies become more urban, we as scientists are in a position to look at humans in much the same way that those who study animal behavior have looked at animals in the wild to see the effect of a changing habitat on this species.”
A growing number of studies are showing that humans living in settings lacking living plants show physical, psychological and social disorders similar to those developed by other animals that have been removed from their natural habitats.
“In animals what you see is increases in aggression, you see disrupted parenting patterns,” Kuo said.
On the physical level, a large-scale Dutch study found that the amount of green space within a one- to three-mile radius of a person’s home is a significant predictor of their overall health. A Japanese study found that elderly people who lived within walking distance of a park or other green space had significantly longer life expectancies than those who lived farther away.
College students have been found to perform higher on tests of cognitive function if they live in rooms overlooking living plants, while people living far from natural settings demonstrate not only worsened cognitive function, but also impulse control and management of life conflicts. A walk in a park has been proven to reduce hyperactivity in children as much as standard drug treatments.
Finally, communities with more green space have lower levels of crime and violence than communities with more green space. Communities without green space, on the other hand, have higher levels of property, crime, graffiti and litter.
“We might call some of that ‘soiling the nest,’ which is not healthy,” Kuo said. “No organisms do that when they’re in good shape.”
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