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Health Benefits
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Health Benefits

Healing Garden Penn State Hershey Medical CenterRecent studies are demonstrating dramatic improvement in human performance and behavior when a landscaped environment is incorporated into hospitals, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. Access to landscaped environments have been shown to reduce hospital stays for patients, improved the recovery of cancer patients, improve the performance of students in schools, and reduce sick leave usage among office workers.

There have been a number of studies that have related the presence of a landscaped environment to human health. Studies have found that the presence of plants, or quite simply the ability to see plants, can reduce pain sensation, lower blood pressure and help patients heal faster. Not only does the impact of plants translate to less human suffering and better health, but it also means fewer drugs and lower healthcare costs. Any design of a hospital or health care facility should incorporate the benefits of the landscaped environment on patient well-being.

Shorter Hospital Stays

Researcher Roger Ulrich (1984) found positive changes in medical outcomes resulting directly from people being able to see plants. Ulrich compared the hospital records of patients recovering from gall bladder surgery in a suburban Philadelphia hospital and found those with a view of a group of trees spent less time in the hospital than those looking out at a brick wall (7.96 days vs. 8.70 days). Equally important: the patients required fewer and less potent drugs to remain comfortable.

Translating that into economic terms, a University Of Michigan study found that average cost of the last day of stay for a hospital patient was $432 (Taheri et al, 2000) Assuming that the average reduction in hospital stays could be reduced by 0.74 days as in the Ulrich study and the annual number of hospital discharges was 34.9 million in the U.S. in 2006 (DeFrances, et al, 2008), that would equate to a potential savings of over $11 billion over a year to the U.S. healthcare system, insurers and individuals.

Breast Cancer Recovery Improved

A study of breast cancer patients used walks and other exposure to the natural environment for 120 minutes per week before and after breast cancer surgery to help women maintain and regain their mental and emotional strength (Cimprich & Ronis, 2003). The study found that the group having the exposure to the natural environment was significantly better than the control group, which had no such exposure, even after controlling for other variables such as age, education and other health problems.

Higher Bone Density

A University of Arkansas study found that women age 50 and older who gardened at least once a week had higher bone density than those who jogged, walked, swam or did aerobics. Lori Turner, assistant professor of health sciences at the university, says weight-bearing exercise is known to help women maintain healthy bones. According to Turner (2001), "being outside also gives bones an extra boost from the Vitamin D derived from sunlight.”

Healthier Hearts

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 30–60 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times per week to promote cardiovascular fitness. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that adults accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Moderate activities include pleasure walking, climbing stairs, gardening, yard work, moderate to heavy housework, dancing and home exercise. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease. Gallup Polls put gardening as the No. 1 adult leisure-time activity.

Regular gardening, like other moderate physical activities, offers a list of short- and long-term health benefits. A some of the more important benefits:

Gardening as Exercise.

Short-Term Benefits
More energy and stamina, stronger bones and muscles, cope more easily with daily stress, be less preoccupied with your weight, relax and sleep more soundly.

Long-Term Benefits
Reduced risk of: high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, adult-onset diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, colon-cancer. Increased likelihood of continued independent living in later life

Dutch researchers (Maas, Verheij, Groenewegen, de Vries, & Spreeuwenberg,, 2006) found a strong tie between general public health in an area and the amount of green space in that environment. Not only was there a strong correlation between greenery and the health of residents in an area, but the more urbanized an area, the greater the impact green space had on the general health of the population in that area.Finally, in an article summarizing what we know about the interaction between human health and the natural world, a team of health scientists from Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia wrote:

Natural areas can be seen as one of our most vital health resources. In the context of the growing worldwide mental illness burden of disease, contact with nature may offer an affordable, accessible and equitable choice in tackling the imminent epidemic, within both preventative and restorative public health strategies. (Maller et al., 2005)

 A summary of evidence supporting the assertion that contact with nature promotes health and well-being.

What the Research Demonstrates With Certainty
There are some known beneficial physiological effects that occur when humans encounter, observe or otherwise positively interact with animals, plants, landscapes or wilderness.
Natural environments foster recovery from mental fatigue and are restorative.
There are established methods of nature-based therapy (including wilderness, horticultural and animal-assisted therapy among others) that have success in healing patients who previously had not responded to treatment.
When given a choice, people prefer natural environments (particularly those with water features, large old trees, intact vegetation or minimal human influence) to urban ones, regardless of nationality or culture.
The majority of places that people consider favorite or restorative are natural places, and being in these places is recuperative.
People have a more positive outlook on life and higher life satisfaction when in proximity to nature (particularly in urban areas).
Exposure to natural environments enhances the ability to cope with and recover from stress, cope with subsequent stress and recover from illness and injury
Observing nature can restore concentration and improve productivity.
Having nature in close proximity, or just knowing it exists, is important to people regardless of whether they are regular "users” of it.
Note. A = Anecdotal; T = Theoretical; E = Empirical
Source. Maller et al. (2005).

PLNA recommends that the building designs for public and quasi-public buildings (hospitals, schools, government office buildings, assisted living facilities, etc.) incorporate adjacent landscaping as apart of the overall building design.

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