Access to nature reduces depression and obesity, finds European study

Trees and green spaces are unrecognised healers offering benefits from increases in mental wellbeing to allergy reductions, says report   People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report.   Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found.   Overall, nature is an under-recognised healer, the paper says, offering multiple health benefits from allergy reductions to increases in self-esteem and mental wellbeing.   A study team of 11 researchers at the Institute for European environmental policy (IEEP) spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies for the report, which is the most wide-ranging probe yet into the dynamics of health, nature and wellbeing.   The project first appeared as an unpublicised 280-page European commission literature review last autumn, before being augmented for Friends of the Earth Europe with analysis of the links between nature-related health outcomes and deprivation.   Excerpt from The Guardian Online, read the full report here.   Boost your physical resilience   Stress isn’t a new problem. However, today it is office politics, traffic jams, overwork and late nights that cause levels to rise. Whereas cave dwellers burnt off stress through the physical activity involved in fight or flight; today we often can’t physically fight or run away from the things that cause us stress. As a result, we are increasingly all wound up with nowhere to go.   Physical resilience is what we need to keep on going however tough the pressures are. Without the right levels of energy and stamina it is very difficult to consistently employ the mental coping skills and strategies you use to deal with stressful or high pressured situations.  
  • Look after your body – When stressed we tend to reach for quick fixes – stimulants like coffee or foods high in fat or sugar. But this diet compounds the problem. Chocolate and coffee give you an initial boost, but then leaves you weary. Salty crisps dehydrate the body and brain and bring on fatigue. High fat meals raise stress hormones and keep them high.
  • Boost your immune system– To beat stress you need a strong body. That means a powerful immune system boosted by plenty of vitamins and minerals. The best source is food rather than supplements, so eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and if you need to snack during the day, try pumpkin or sunflower seeds and fruit.
  • Eat a rainbow– There are 350,000 different forms of edible plants on this planet. How many do you eat in a week? Variety is essential as different types and colours of food contain different vitamins and minerals; so eat a rainbow. Variety is actually good for you as your body can get stressed by trying to break down the same food time and time again.
  • Drink water– If you want to deal with stress, drink water. The brain can only operate effectively if its cells are properly hydrated. Being properly hydrated will therefore improve your concentration, focus and mood and help you to cope better with stressful situations. A good rule is to take a few sips every 15 minutes.
  • Avoid stimulants –Caffeine stays in the body for six hours before it starts to deplete, all the time triggering the release of stress hormones (adrenaline). Sugar, nicotine and alcohol also stimulate adrenaline – a hormone preparing you for fight or flight. Chocolate contains sugar and caffeine – a double hit!
  • Use a relaxation technique– Stress makes your heart beat faster and your breathing become shallow. You can reverse that process through deep breathing, stretching or physical activity.
  • Get active– Physical activity and exercise is a great stress buster on two levels. Firstly, exercise gets rid of the harmful adrenaline that is produced when you get stressed; and secondly, when you exercise the brain also releases endorphins which are feel good hormones.
  • Get your sleep– Good quality sleep is the only way you can properly recharge your batteries as you can’t deal with stressful situations well if you’re ‘running on half empty’

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