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Researchers: Nature is the RX You Need

Researchers at the University of Illinois say green space is needed to keep people healthy, and it's especially true for kids. (Veronica Carter)
Researchers at the University of Illinois say green space is needed to keep people healthy, and it's especially true for kids. (Veronica Carter)
March 23, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS – As the weather warms up and birds chirp and flowers bloom, don't forget to take some time to enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer.

Research shows it can make you feel better, inside and out.

Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, says people are instinctively drawn to places where their ancestors thrived, but the current obsession with electronic devices, poor urban planning and disappearing open space means most folks are spending less time outdoors.

Kuo stresses it's especially important for children to be exposed to greenery. One of her latest research projects found symptoms of ADHD were reduced by using nature as a prescription.

"What we see is immediately after spending time in a green space, a child's ADHD symptoms might be temporarily reduced,” she explains. “And we also see that kids who spend time in green spaces generally have milder symptoms."

Kuo says the study found outdoor time has the same effect on children, no matter their socioeconomic background.

She states city planners need to keep that in mind when designing living spaces, particularly public housing.

Kuo says tree-lined streets, grass, gardens and parks need to be included, because for some children, it's their only exposure to the outdoors.

Kuo points out being exposed to greenery also reduces anger, aggression and violence.

"Greener neighborhoods tend to have stronger social ties among neighbors,” she says. “They have lower levels of crime, including violent crime as well as property crimes, partly because people tend to use their outdoor spaces, and that introduces a kind of informal surveillance."

Kuo adds exposure to green space goes even further. Her research also links the lack of it to obesity, some infectious and respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, migraines, depression and anxiety.

She says while nature deficit disorder isn't an official medical diagnosis, many people find that spending more time in nature just makes them feel better.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN