What nature does for us: Health & Wellbeing

Mental health problems are common in our society, with 1 in 6 adults now reporting mental health disorders. In England alone, there are over 550,000 people with more severe mental health disorders. Along with substance misuse, mental health issues account for 21.3% of all diseases in England, with a social and economic cost of £105 billion per year .

Around 30% of people who have physical health issues (especially long term conditions) are likely to suffer from poor mental health, with anxiety and depression being common. This can exacerbate to cause debilitating problems such as chronic pain.

(Public Health England)

Nature has long been recognised in its role as helping to alleviate both mental and physical health issues. At the most basic level, human health and wellbeing is dependent on the goods and services nature provides: air, food, shelter, and water. Linkages between natural environments and a range of positive health outcomes are growing. The University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment & Human Health 2018 report on health and the natural environment listed several outcomes:

  • Mental health and wellbeing – reductions in psychological stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
  • Self-rated health – self-rated health is higher in those with a greater amount of natural environment around the home..
  • Maternal, foetal and child cognitive development – exposure to green space during pregnancy is associated with foetal growth, good birth weight and a number of cognitive development indicators in childhood.
  • Mortality – extensive evidence that living in greener environments (e.g. the greater percentage of natural features around the home) is associated with reduced mortality.
  • Internal biome – emerging research shows that direct contact with nature is important to the development of a healthy internal biome. A relationship has been identified between the maintenance of a healthy immune system and reduction of inflammatory-based diseases (e.g. asthma), with exposure to natural environments.
  • Obesity – Obesity tends to be lower in populations living in greener environments – by up to 40% across Europe.
  • Other physiological outcomes – exposure to nature is also linked to favourable heart rate; blood pressure; vitamin D levels; recuperation rates; and cortisol levels, and is also associated with lower prevalence of diabetes type 2.