Not having enough contact with the natural environment is one reason more city dwellers are developing allergies and asthma. That is, living away from nature is taking a measurable toll on our health according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Researchers from the University of Helsinki collected samples from 188 participants, all teenagers in eastern Finland. Those who lived on farms or near forests were found to have more diverse bacteria on their skin and to display lower sensitivity to allergens. Indeed, the scientists found that certain microbiota — bacteria that have been shown to be beneficial to humans by helping to maintain our immune system — are found in greater abundance in non-urban settings.
A richer diversity of bacteria live in a vegetative environment (forests, agricultural areas) but many of us are deprived of these as we live in urban settings. As the researchers tell the BBC, “urbanization “can be seen as a lost opportunity for many people to interact with the natural environment and its biodiversity, including the microbial communities.”
To underscore the importance the benefits of the natural environment for our health, the BBC cites some more studies that underscore our human need for nature:
A study in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found higher stress levels in those living in urban areas who are “deprived” of access to green spaces.
The Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors consortium (I’DGO) has found a “direct link between the ease of getting outdoors and health and quality of life” via a study of 4,350 older people across the U.K.
Recognizing that it is not possible to reverse urbanization — to have the majority of us move “back to the land” — the University of Helsinki researchers say that their findings suggest that urban planners should be sure to incorporate “green spaces, green belts and green infrastructure” throughout cities.
A concrete jungle, or a suburban office “park,” just are not the best environments for us. Far from an indulgence, getting outside, most of all in nature — amid trees and rocks and waterways — is simply good for us.
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