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      The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes

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          Abstract

          Background

          The health benefits of greenspaces have demanded the attention of policymakers since the 1800s. Although much evidence suggests greenspace exposure is beneficial for health, there exists no systematic review and meta-analysis to synthesise and quantify the impact of greenspace on a wide range of health outcomes.

          Objective

          To quantify evidence of the impact of greenspace on a wide range of health outcomes.

          Methods

          We searched five online databases and reference lists up to January 2017. Studies satisfying a priori eligibility criteria were evaluated independently by two authors.

          Results

          We included 103 observational and 40 interventional studies investigating ~100 health outcomes. Meta-analysis results showed increased greenspace exposure was associated with decreased salivary cortisol −0.05 (95% CI −0.07, −0.04), heart rate −2.57 (95% CI −4.30, −0.83), diastolic blood pressure −1.97 (95% CI −3.45, −0.19), HDL cholesterol −0.03 (95% CI −0.05, <-0.01), low frequency heart rate variability (HRV) −0.06 (95% CI −0.08, −0.03) and increased high frequency HRV 91.87 (95% CI 50.92, 132.82), as well as decreased risk of preterm birth 0.87 (95% CI 0.80, 0.94), type II diabetes 0.72 (95% CI 0.61, 0.85), all-cause mortality 0.69 (95% CI 0.55, 0.87), small size for gestational age 0.81 (95% CI 0.76, 0.86), cardiovascular mortality 0.84 (95% CI 0.76, 0.93), and an increased incidence of good self-reported health 1.12 (95% CI 1.05, 1.19). Incidence of stroke, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, asthma, and coronary heart disease were reduced. For several non-pooled health outcomes, between 66.7% and 100% of studies showed health-denoting associations with increased greenspace exposure including neurological and cancer-related outcomes, and respiratory mortality.

          Conclusions

          Greenspace exposure is associated with numerous health benefits in intervention and observational studies. These results are indicative of a beneficial influence of greenspace on a wide range of health outcomes. However several meta-analyses results are limited by poor study quality and high levels of heterogeneity. Green prescriptions involving greenspace use may have substantial benefits. Our findings should encourage practitioners and policymakers to give due regard to how they can create, maintain, and improve existing accessible greenspaces in deprived areas. Furthermore the development of strategies and interventions for the utilisation of such greenspaces by those who stand to benefit the most.

          Highlights

          • Greenspace exposure is associated with wide ranging health benefits across 143 included studies.

          • Meta-analysis showed statistically significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol and heart rate.

          • Meta-analysis found statistically significant decreases in incidence of diabetes, all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

          • A number of meta-analyses were limited by poor study quality and high levels of heterogeneity.

          • Greenspace and street greenery may form part of a multi-faceted approach to improve a wide range of health outcomes.

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          Most cited references 34

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          A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments

          Background There is increasing interest in the potential role of the natural environment in human health and well-being. However, the evidence-base for specific and direct health or well-being benefits of activity within natural compared to more synthetic environments has not been systematically assessed. Methods We conducted a systematic review to collate and synthesise the findings of studies that compare measurements of health or well-being in natural and synthetic environments. Effect sizes of the differences between environments were calculated and meta-analysis used to synthesise data from studies measuring similar outcomes. Results Twenty-five studies met the review inclusion criteria. Most of these studies were crossover or controlled trials that investigated the effects of short-term exposure to each environment during a walk or run. This included 'natural' environments, such as public parks and green university campuses, and synthetic environments, such as indoor and outdoor built environments. The most common outcome measures were scores of different self-reported emotions. Based on these data, a meta-analysis provided some evidence of a positive benefit of a walk or run in a natural environment in comparison to a synthetic environment. There was also some support for greater attention after exposure to a natural environment but not after adjusting effect sizes for pretest differences. Meta-analysis of data on blood pressure and cortisol concentrations found less evidence of a consistent difference between environments across studies. Conclusions Overall, the studies are suggestive that natural environments may have direct and positive impacts on well-being, but support the need for investment in further research on this question to understand the general significance for public health.
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            Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: An ecosystem service essential to health

             Graham Rook (2013)
            Epidemiological studies suggest that living close to the natural environment is associated with long-term health benefits including reduced death rates, reduced cardiovascular disease, and reduced psychiatric problems. This is often attributed to psychological mechanisms, boosted by exercise, social interactions, and sunlight. Compared with urban environments, exposure to green spaces does indeed trigger rapid psychological, physiological, and endocrinological effects. However, there is little evidence that these rapid transient effects cause long-term health benefits or even that they are a specific property of natural environments. Meanwhile, the illnesses that are increasing in high-income countries are associated with failing immunoregulation and poorly regulated inflammatory responses, manifested as chronically raised C-reactive protein and proinflammatory cytokines. This failure of immunoregulation is partly attributable to a lack of exposure to organisms ("Old Friends") from mankind's evolutionary past that needed to be tolerated and therefore evolved roles in driving immunoregulatory mechanisms. Some Old Friends (such as helminths and infections picked up at birth that established carrier states) are almost eliminated from the urban environment. This increases our dependence on Old Friends derived from our mothers, other people, animals, and the environment. It is suggested that the requirement for microbial input from the environment to drive immunoregulation is a major component of the beneficial effect of green space, and a neglected ecosystem service that is essential for our well-being. This insight will allow green spaces to be designed to optimize health benefits and will provide impetus from health systems for the preservation of ecosystem biodiversity.
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              Serum vitamin D concentrations among elderly people in Europe.

              Vitamin D status decreases with age, mainly as a result of restricted sunlight exposure, reduced capacity of the skin to produce vitamin D, and reduced dietary vitamin D intake. We measured wintertime serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] concentrations in 824 elderly people from 11 European countries. 36% of men and 47% of women had 25(OH)D concentrations below 30 nmol/L. Users of vitamin D supplements and/or sunlamps had higher 25(OH)D (median 54 nmol/L) than non users (median 31 nmol/L). Surprisingly, lowest mean 25(OH)D concentrations were seen in southern European countries. Low 25(OH)D concentrations could largely be explained by attitudes towards sunlight exposure and factors of physical health status, after exclusion of users of vitamin D supplements or sunlamps. Problems with daily living activities and wearing clothes with long sleeves during periods of sunshine were strong predictors of low wintertime serum 25(OH)D concentrations. These findings show that free-living elderly Europeans, regardless of geographical location, are at substantial risk of inadequate vitamin D status during winter and that dietary enrichment or supplementation with vitamin D should be seriously considered during this season.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Environ Res
                Environ. Res
                Environmental Research
                Elsevier
                0013-9351
                1096-0953
                1 October 2018
                October 2018
                : 166
                : 628-637
                Affiliations
                Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Room 1.23 Queen’s Building, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, United Kingdom
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. cbennett10@ 123456qub.ac.uk
                Article
                S0013-9351(18)30332-3
                10.1016/j.envres.2018.06.030
                6562165
                29982151
                © 2018 The Authors

                This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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