We’ve heard for years about the therapeutic effects of “getting back to nature,” and slowing down “to smell the roses.” Now, research from the Netherlands ups the ante:  studies reveal that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you’re likely to be. For instance, researchers found that people who live within a kilometer (.6 miles) of a park or wooded area experience less anxiety and depression. These findings add concrete numbers to what many health experts assumed to be true already. “It’s nice to see … that the closer humans are to the natural environment, that seems to have a healthy influence,” said Dr. David Rakel, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. 3798DSC_2116-2008-300x199The new study involved delving deeply into the medical records of 345,143 people in the Netherlands. The records listed the health status of patients with 24 common conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological diseases. The researchers referred to these natural environments as ‘green space’. The collected data was then correlated with how much green space was located within one kilometer of a person’s postal code. The results were astonishing. People living in urban environments had a higher prevalence of 15 of the 24 conditions, with the strongest being anxiety and depression disorders. In areas with only 10% green space, about 2.6% of people experienced anxiety disorders, compared to 1.8% of those who live in areas with more than 90% green space. The disparity was evident for depression cases as well: 3.2% of people living in more urbanized areas were more likely to be depressed, versus 2.4% of those in more rural areas. Investigators concluded that the health benefits were evident only when the green acres were within a kilometer. The findings were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Experts believe any number of factors could account for the difference in health benefits of green space. One factor may be more natural sunlight, which has been linked with a lower incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other benefits. Rural places are often less crowded than urban areas, which is what attracts people to these quiet settings. The study found measurable health benefits for those with easy access to nature, which begs the question: are urban dwellers doomed to a future filled with support groups and happy pill prescriptions? As author Alex Garland wrote: “And me, I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for, ’cause it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something, and if you find that moment, it lasts forever.” – Anthony Isaac Palacios