Feeling Depressed? Get Some Fresh Air

By Leslie Davis

It’s well documented that where you live has an effect on your health. Your environment affects your stress levels, blood pressure, risk of certain diseases and overall well-being. Many people opt for the serenity of a rural setting over big city life for many of those reasons. And a new study provides yet one more.

People who live close to green space have lower rates of depression, anxiety and poor physical health than do those who reside in more urban settings, according to a recent study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Having green space within a half mile of your house can also mean lower rates of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, mental illness, respiratory disease, neurological disease and digestive disease, researchers reported:

  • The study looked at the health records of people registered with 195 family doctors serving a population of nearly 350,000 in the Netherlands.
  • For people living in an area with 90 percent green space within two miles of their home, the incidence of anxiety disorders was 18 per 1,000, as compared to 26 per 1,000 for areas with 10 percent green space.
  • For depression, that number decreased from 32 to 24, respectively.

Researchers remain unclear on the correlation between green space and health, but suggest it has something to do with better air quality and more opportunities for relaxing,
socializing and exercising.

“This study shows that the role of green space in the living environment for health should not be underestimated,” said the study’s researchers.

How to Get More Green

It may not be possible for you to relocate your job, home or children to somewhere with more green space. But there are ways you can get outside to take advantage of the health benefits of the great outdoors:

  • Go for a walk. Even a short walk around the block will do wonders for your mood. Try and make this a daily occurrence. If you need motivation, grab a dog or a friend.
  • Play a sport. Joining a team sport provides exercise and fresh air – a great combination for combating depression. Find out what your local recreation center offers or ask a friend to hit the tennis courts with you.
  • Have a picnic. Nothing beats eating outside on a nice night. Whether it’s a barbecue in your backyard, a picnic in a park or dinner at the beach, a change of scenery during your meals may do you a world of good.
  • Volunteer. Many volunteer opportunities exist that take place outdoors. Clean up a local park or beach, help build a house with Habitat for Humanity or offer to keep time for the local high school track team. Volunteering is also a good way, on its own, to keep depression at bay.
  • Take a road trip. It is likely there is at least one patch of green space in your vicinity, but if there’s none you enjoy, hop in the car and drive somewhere you can spend the day outdoors. Just make sure it’s not a long drive, which can add to your anxiety.
  • Read a book. Pick up a book or magazine, walk to your nearest park and read. The act of reading is even more relaxing with a cool breeze behind you.
  • Frequent a local farmer’s market. Get outdoors to do your shopping. This will allow you to socialize, get fresh foods and stroll.
  • Garden. If there is not green area near you, create your own in your backyard. Fill your garden with flowers that make you feel calm. The act of gardening is also a good way to de-stress.

If the symptoms of teen depression or anxiety are severe enough that getting outside is the last thing you want to do, you may want to seek treatment at a residential treatment center that specializes in mood disorders. With the right combination of therapy, medication and outdoor activity, you can overcome your anxiety or depression in any setting.