We all know that sustainable living is good for the planet’s well being. What we’re not so aware of is how it can also be good for our own, personal wellbeing. Anyone who wants to be healthy, happy, and operate under a clear conscience could do a lot worse than to look into the benefits of sustainability for humans.
Dubious? Well, we don’t blame you. Many of us associate sustainability with self-sacrifice, ‘going without’, and generally giving up the ‘easy life’ for the greater benefit of the planet. We’ve all grown up in a society which teaches that pleasant things are bad for us and that what’s good for us is both arduous and virtuous. However, in the case of sustainability, the evidence doesn’t quite back up the popular image. Sustainability, it transpires really can be good not only for the planet, but for your personal mind, body, and soul as well. There are varied and diverse reasons for this, but one of the biggest is the environmental factor…
Health and the environment are intrinsically linked
One of the primary aims of sustainability movements is to promote greener, more nature-based environments. According to sustainable ideology, the ‘concrete jungle’ of a predominantly urban landscape is less sustainable than a landscape which makes space for things like trees, meadows, parks, flowers, and so forth. Proponents of sustainability don’t necessarily want everyone to flee the cities and live like cavemen in the wilds. That would be unsustainable from a human point of view! They do, however, want a workable compromise between human modes of living and natural habitat.
So what does this mean in practice, for modern cities? Well, it means more parks, more tree-lined avenues, more community gardens, more roof-gardens, greater emphasis on sustainable transport, and so on. It’s a vision which would not only see pollution levels drop and biodiversity flourish, but would also actively, positively impact upon human wellbeing.
How? Well, there’s an absolute wealth of research out there proving that time spent in ‘green’ spaces is incredibly good for us on a number of levels, including:
People tend to use green spaces for physical recreations, such as walking the dog or jogging. Children also use them for active play – tree climbing, den-building, and other games. The more green spaces we have in our cities, the more opportunities people have to enjoy these physical recreations. In many cases (dog walking being a particular case in point), green spaces ensure that we up our exercise levels without even realising it. And that has a positive knock-on effect on our health.
The link between mental health and green spaces isn’t fully understood yet, but it’s indisputably there. Numerous studies have demonstrated that people who regularly spend time in green spaces – or even simply have ‘natural’ things to look at during the day (a simple vase of flowers does the trick!) – have better mental health than those who do not. No matter the economic circumstances, their social background, or any other factor, those who have regular access to nature are at far lower risk of developing depression, anxiety, and even psychosis than those who do not. Furthermore, people suffering from depression frequently experience a dramatic reduction in symptoms if they start spending more time in green environments. It gets better. Studies with attention-deficit children have clearly demonstrated that their symptoms markedly decrease following ‘green play’ and that a sustained course of ‘nature therapy’ can drastically improve both their academic performance and their self-reported quality of life.
So, just by creating a more sustainable environment, we’ve already given ourselves opportunities to vastly improve our physical and mental health. Which naturally leads to a much better quality of life. As the research mentioned demonstrates, people who live in greener environments and who use more sustainable means of transport (walking or cycling rather than taking a car) tend to be healthier, happier, and have better mental health. If we consider a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ to involve a commitment to more environmentally-friendly modes of living and working, it’s not just the environment which benefits. So much for the self-sacrifice and toil of a sustainable lifestyle! Adopting sustainable living practices whenever we can, looks set to contribute towards a reduction in stress as well as a healthier and happier life!