Contact with nature can demonstrably help improve and maintain our health, according to scientific research.
And, earlier this year, a study that we covered on Medical News Today concluded that even just having access to green spaces throughout childhood decreased a person’s risk of developing mental health problems later in life.
Now, research by investigators from the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom suggests that the passive enjoyment of green spaces — for instance, being able to see the trees in your back garden from your bedroom window — can help reduce the frequency and intensity of cravings with potentially harmful effects, such as those for unhealthful snacks, alcohol, or tobacco.
Lead author Leanne Martin and colleagues present their findings in a study paper that features in the journal Health & Place.
“It has been known for some time that being outdoors in nature is linked to a person’s well-being. 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 Martin, for whom the current research was part of a Master’s degree project.
“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,” she adds.
A green view for better health
For this study, the researchers surveyed 149 participants aged 21–65 years, asking them whether and in what way they had any exposure to nature. They also questioned the participants on the frequency and intensity of their unhealthful cravings, as well as how these affected their emotional health.
As part of the survey, the team also looked at the proportion of green space present in each participant’s neighborhood, the access to green views from their home, their access to a personal or community garden, and how often they used public green spaces.
Martin and colleagues found that people who had access to a garden — either a private one or a community one — reported more infrequent and less intense cravings, and people whose views from home incorporated more than 25% green space described similar benefits.
The researchers note that the participants in question reaped these benefits irrespective of their level of physical activity, which the investigators took into account.
According to the study authors, the current findings add to the body of evidence showing that access to nature positively affects different aspects of health.
“Craving contributes to a variety of health-damaging behaviors, such as smoking, excessive drinking, and unhealthy eating. 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.”
Study co-author Sabine Pahl, Ph.D.
Nevertheless, the researchers point out that the current study has not verified whether the association between access to natural views and lower cravings is actually a causal relationship. This, they say, must be the next step of the investigation.
“Future research should investigate if and how green spaces can be used to help people withstand problematic cravings, enabling them to better manage cessation attempts in the future,” says Pahl.