Green therapy

There’s no longer any doubt about it. Green therapy - surrounding yourself with trees, flowers and all things green and beautiful - could be one of the simplest and most inexpensive ways to benefit your health, both physically and mentally.

Long ago, when I was in my twenties, I was studying the Chinese science of Feng Shui. I had to write a paper on the relationship between health and nature and I found a remarkable research study, far ahead of its time, done in the USA.

It was carried out by a hospital in Pennsylvania over a period of 10 years, and looked at the effect of building rooms with views of trees and the garden on their patients. They found that recovery was faster and that patients spent less days in hospital if they had a green view, compared to a control group who had no views of greenery. The ‘green’ patients needed less painkillers and medication for their treatment and were nicer to the nurses. Amazing – and so simple.

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In another hospital, patients waiting for operations were shown a picture of a landscape, accompanied by the sound of birdsong and water. Those patients needed 50% less pain relief than the control group.

30 years later, and not much attention seems to have been paid to those findings. Imagine the savings the NHS could make if it had invested in a few plants. Perhaps green should be the new white paper? The way forward... Jeremy Hunt, are you listening?

Other studies have found similarly dramatic findings. The more green your surroundings the lower your stress levels. Contrarily, the less surrounded by nature you are, the higher your cortisol levels rise (Grahn and Stigsdotter, 2003). Increasing the number of green parks and playgrounds in cities reduces both violence and crime. If only successive governments hadn’t sold off all our playing fields and built concrete blocks on them instead.

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Exercising outdoors or looking at a green view has been proved to lower your blood pressure, and makes you happier than walking along a tree-less, concrete city street (Hartig et al 2003). Even a plant in the office can help you take less sick days and increase office productivity. 

So, in a nutshell, country living is better for you than living in a block of flats in the city (we probably all knew that anyway…).  If moving to Wales isn’t in your immediate life plan, reboot your window boxes, buy some plants for your sitting room, move your desk close to the window and head to the park instead. Green up your life and get healthy in the process.

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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health. 

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