According to new research, city dwellers are more likely to be stressed, depressed, and suffer from mental illness, while nature-seeking individuals experience better health.

There’s something about staring at concrete and hearing the constant roar of traffic every day that makes life a bit gloomier.

People living in urban settings have a 20% higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40% higher risk of mood disorders as people who live in rural areas. Urban dwellers that were born and raised in the city are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia. [1]

Stanford University researchers published a study earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finding that walking in nature reduces negative thinking and self-criticism, both of which are major contributors to depression and anxiety disorders.

“Cities are known for higher levels of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia,” study co-author Greg Bratman, a doctoral student at the university’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, told The Huffington Post in an email. “While the underlying causes are doubtless complex and multifaceted, our findings and those of others highlight the benefits of nature experience.”

Scientists asked 38 mostly healthy men and women to answer questions about their tendency to ruminate, then gave them brain scans to measure the activity of a particular region of the brain that tends to light up during this type of inner, negative self-talk. Then, each individual went on a 90-minute walk in either a green space or an urban area.

The participants who walked in a green area reported less rumination, and their brain scans showed less activity in the brain regions associated with repetitive negative thinking.

How to Spend Time with Nature

Fortunately, you don’t have to live on a farm or in the woods to reap the benefits of the great outdoors. In 2013, British researchers concluded that walking through urban green spaces was just as beneficial as going for a nature hike, and that it put the brain into a state of meditation.

Clearly, the most obvious way to incorporate green spaces into an urban environment is by building more parks. But like walking, getting down and dirty with nature through gardening provides a huge mood boost as well.

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A survey published in Gardeners World revealed that 80% of gardeners reported being “happy” and satisfied with their lives, compared to only 67% of non-gardeners. The more time spent in the garden, the better. Eighty-seven percent of the participants who said they spent more than six hours a week in their gardens reported feeling happy, compared to those spending less time in their gardens[2]

Gardening isn’t just for farmers or suburbanite homeowners with sprawling lawns anymore. Urban gardening is growing in popularity as more and more city dwellers opt to bring nature to their rooftops, balconies, and windowsills.

The Awesome Impact of Urban Gardening – Anyone can Enjoy

Through vertical gardening, people living in apartments can use stakes, trellises, hanging pots, and layered gardens to produce beautiful flowers, and fresh fruits and veggies. Urban gardening doesn’t just help stave off depression and other mental health problems; it also gives people access to healthy foods they might not otherwise find at the corner mini-mart.

Urban gardening is also very healing. In Ft. Wayne, Indiana, women from Redemption House – an inner-city ministry which helps women suffering from drug and alcohol abuse who might otherwise be sent to jail – residents find second chances at the nonprofit’s urban farm.

Project HEAL (Help to Eat, Accept, and Live) consists of two acres where the women grow healthful food and learn about healthier living. The process builds self-esteem, but that’s only part of the healing process. The vitamin D produced by sunlight boosts the women’s immune systems; Mycobacterium vaccae bacteria found in the dirt, when eaten or inhaled, relieves symptoms of psoriasis, allergies and asthma. [3]

Communing with nature may very well help urbanites avoid the side effects and potential long-term brain damage caused by psychiatric medication, as well. Pulitzer Prize nominee Robert Whitaker once conducted a study at Duke University in the late 1990s that divided depressed participants into three groups: exercise only, exercise plus antidepressant, and antidepressant drug only. After 10 months follow-up, the exercise only group had the highest remission and stay-well rate of all participants. [2]

Dr. Alan Cohen, a British general practitioner with a special interest in mental health, sums up the human relationship with nature like this:

[W]hen people get depressed or anxious, they often feel they’re not in control of their lives. Exercise gives them back control of their bodies and this is often the first step to feeling in control of other events.”

Taking a walk through a park or getting dirt under your fingernails is the best way to polish the heart and mind, and you don’t have to live in the middle of nowhere to do it.

Sources:

[1] Stanford News

[2] Mercola

[3] News-Sentinel


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Post written byJulie Fidler:
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.