It’s better seeing green

Just being able to see green spaces from your home may reduce cravings for alcohol, cigarettes and harmful foods, British researchers suggest.

That’s based on a novel online survey that explored the relationships between various aspects of an individual’s exposure to nature, their cravings, and any negative emotions or feelings.

Among other things, it measured the proportion of greenspace in each person’s residential neighbourhood, the presence of green views from their home, their access to a garden or allotment, and how frequently they use public green areas.

The researchers say the results show that having access to a garden or allotment is associated with both lower craving strength and frequency, while residential views incorporating more than 25% green space evoke similar responses.

And while previous research has suggested that exercising outside is better for well-being than exercising inside, this study suggests that reduced craving occurs outside irrespective of physical activity level.

“It has been known for some time that being outdoors in nature is linked to a person’s wellbeing, but for there to be a similar association with cravings from simply being able to see green spaces adds a new dimension to previous research,” says Leanne Martin, from the University of Plymouth.

“This is the first study to explore this idea, and it could have a range of implications for both public health and environmental protection programs in the future.”

It certainly points to the need to protect and invest in green spaces within towns and cities to maximise the public health benefits they may afford, the researchers add.

The study was run in partnership with European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, and the findings are published in the journal Health & Place.

“Craving contributes to a variety of health-damaging behaviours such as smoking, excessive drinking and unhealthy eating,” says Plymouth psychologist and co-author Sabine Pahl. 

“In turn, these can contribute to some of the greatest global health challenges of our time, including cancer, obesity and diabetes. 

“Showing that lower craving is linked to more exposure to green spaces is a promising first step.”

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