It’s World Health Day. It may only come once a year, but for Green Foothills, we work every day to remind local leaders of the critical role they play in keeping our natural world healthy for the benefit of all. And on this World Health Day, the importance of nature to our wellbeing is more appreciable than ever.
Health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. WHO’s definition makes it abundantly clear that health is three-fold, consisting of the physical, the mental, and the social. Connecting with nature achieves all three, making it fundamental to human life, health, and well-being.
Nature for Health and Wellbeing
Research suggests that access to nature can help both prevent and treat chronic illnesses. Taking advantage of a sunny day, for example, promotes the creation and activation of vitamin D, which studies have shown may help prevent cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks. A Japanese study even shows that extended periods in nature can boost your immune system by increasing white blood cell count. In fact, one study showed that even just having a view of nature outside the window resulted in better health outcomes in people recovering from surgery.
Nature also yields considerable benefits for our mental health. Spending time outdoors—even just in your neighborhood— not only improves our mood, but as Dr. Curtis Chan of the San Francisco Department of Public Health states, “there’s no other community resource in our country that relieves stress the way open spaces and parks do”. According to Dr. Nooshin Razani, Director of the Center for Nature and Health at USCF Benioff Children’s Hospital, simply being exposed to nature for 15-20 minutes can moderate cortisol levels, which in turn reduces stress, depression, and anxiety.
Nature – Find It Just Outside Your Door
One need not have read all the science behind the benefits of nature to appreciate why so many have flocked to parks and nature preserves amid this health crisis. Our experiences in nature leave us rejuvenated and refreshed. And remember, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy the immense health benefits found in a simple stroll through nature close to home. So, during this difficult time, we highly recommend that you enjoy nature in your own neighborhood for the sake of public health.
Access to Nature for All
Since 1962, we’ve been advocating to keep nature close to home because, as Dr. Razani also states, access to nature is a health equity issue. Recently, we successfully advocated for bringing an accessible nature park to Burlingame and implementing stronger requirements for parkland dedication in East Palo Alto as it fell well-short of the California standard of three acres per 1,000 residents. We will continue to speak up for local nature because we understand it is a critical component of health for all whether it be the climate crisis or a public health crisis.
Finally on this World Health Day, we want to thank all those in the medical community, especially our doctors and nurses who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. We hope that they are taking the time to enjoy nature close to home too, and find some respite from their arduous work they are doing.