Going to the park frequently is associated with a reduced need for medicines

Research conducted in Finland suggests that frequently visit green spaces in the city such as parks and community gardens may be related to a reduced need to consume medications for depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension and asthma. It has been seen that the results are independent of the level of income and the level of education.

The researchers wanted to know if certain casuistry related to green and blue spaces (bodies of water) could be separately associated with the consumption of certain drugs. These cases were the number of residential green and blue spaces, the frequency with which the green spaces were visited, and whether green and blue spaces could be seen from the residence itself.

The drugs that were selected were those that are prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, insomnia, hypertension and asthmaas they are used to treat health problems that, although common, can be serious.

Park in Sweden, StockholmElizaveta Tomashevska /iStock

The study has been published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine and is of type observational. Participants were randomly selected from the Helsinki Capital Region Environmental Health Survey in 2015-2016. They resided in Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa.

The scientists conducted a poll in which the participants were asked how often they spent time or played sports in green spaces between the months of May and September and if they could see green and blue spaces from their homes. They were also asked for information about the consumption of the drugs mentioned above, whether they had taken them in the last week, more than a year ago, or never.

The study considered factors that could influence the results such as health habits, air pollution and external noise, family income and educational level.

Finally they used data from about 6,000 participants who were the ones who provided all the required information.

Regarding the consideration of green zone and blue zone, forests, gardens, parks, castle parks, cemeteries, zoos and groups of herbaceous vegetation such as natural meadows, moors and wetlands were defined as green zones. The seas, lakes and rivers were considered blue zones.

What the scientists concluded was that neither the number of residential green and blue spaces nor the views of them from home were associated with higher or lower use of prescription drugs for mental health, asthma, hypertension, or The insomnia. For what did seem to exist an association was, instead, for the frequency of visits to green spaces.

Compared with visiting less than once a week, visiting 3-4 times a week was associated with 33% less odds of taking mental health medications, 36% less odds of taking blood pressure medications, and 26 % less likely to use asthma medication.

The equivalent figures for visits of at least 5 times a week were respectively 22%, 41% and 24% lower.

The associations weakened when the body mass index (BMI) was considered. This happened mainly with drugs to treat asthma, since obesity is a risk factor for this pathology.

The researchers also found that participants who reported lower family income (less than €30,000 per year) experienced greater positive effects from visiting green spaces. However, and in general, the associations found did not depend on family income or educational level.

As we have commented, this is an observational study, so a cause-effect cannot be established.

“Increasing scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of exposure to nature is likely to increase the supply of high-quality green spaces in urban settings and promote their active use. This could be one way to improve health and well-being in cities,” the researchers write.

Reference: Turunen, A; Halonen, J. et. to the. Cross-sectional associations of different types of nature exposure with psychotropic, antihypertensive and asthma medication. 2023. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. DOI: 10.1136/oemed-2022-108491

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