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120 minutes: The health benefits of blue/green spaces

Green and Blue Spaces are natural environments - some on land and covered by vegetation (“Green”), others involving water like rivers, lakes, and oceans (“Blue”). The terms "Green Spaces" and "Blue Spaces" are research terms with qualifying parameters to make sure we're all researching the same type of spaces.


For instance, a busy city street with a few trees doesn't count as a Green Space, but Joe Creason or Cherokee Park do. A neighborhood pond doesn't count as a Blue Space, but Lake Nolan, the Ohio River, and the stream network of the Parklands at Floyd's Fork do.


This research that looks into the effects of natural spaces on the human mind-body is called “Green- or Blue-Space research”.


Our ancestors, no matter where they came from, lived surrounded by nature. Every human on the planet evolved this way. Is it any wonder that our bodies and minds require a natural environment to function normally?


The latest research shows that regular immersion in nature leads to many benefits * **:


  • reduced hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • reduced or resolved anxiety and depression

  • reduced stress response

  • reduced stress hormone levels

  • reduced cardiovascular disease

  • reduced ADD symptoms

  • reduced aggression

  • improved mental clarity and function

  • improved mood

  • improved immune function and microbiome


In busy, modern lives, when we cannot be surrounded by nature all the time (as our ancestors were), we need to choose to give ourselves a regular dose of Green- and Blue-Space immersion therapy.


What’s an effective dose? In the latest research, the amount is fairly well defined: We need a minimum of 120 minutes per week.


That is only two hours a week! It can be all at once or broken up into chunks. Any less, however, and the beneficial effects disappear.† 😞


And there are some rules to Blue/Green-Space therapy. Passively looking at a house plant doesn't count. Neither does listening to an audiobook or talking to your cousin on your phone while walking through the park.


One must actively engage with nature. Use all senses to interact with nature but keep focus broad (you don’t need to memorize any detail, compose a descriptive essay, or solve any problems). Just be present and aware. Here are some ways in:


  • Walk in nature…Use your bare feet to feel the ground and grass (in a clean area) or wear non-rubber-soled shoes in areas where foot coverings are necessary. Walk slowly so you can notice what’s around you. For a deeper dive, look into a tradition called ‘forest bathing’ out of Japan (Shinrinyoku).

  • Feel…Touch tree trunks, leaves (for safety, stick with ones you recognize), stems, and flowers. How the leaves, flowers, trees feel (fuzzy, silky, rough, smooth....). Notice the patterns.

  • Smell…Smell flowers, breathe the fresh air, get close to the soil and notice its scent.

  • Listen…What is happening around you that you can hear? Listen to the birds, the wind, squirrels climbing, branches moving, children playing.

  • Taste…Go to a farm with U-pick options, plant a small garden and sample the fruits of your own labor, grow and eat edible flowers. Take a class on foraging from our local foraging guide, The Hungry Forager. Or at least bring your lunch out to the park!

  • Actively see…Really look at what is around you. What leaves are falling from trees? What color are the flowers? Do you see bees and other pollinators at work? Can you spot the woodpecker you hear? What are the clouds doing? Do you see animal tracks or paths? From which direction is the wind blowing? Where is the sun shining? The list is endless.


Where to go?


Below are great places to immerse yourself in nature around Louisville. Pick one and go get some prescribed Green- or Blue-Space therapy. A few of these have free admission or are donation based.

Your neighborhood park

Just one more way we depend on our planet for health and happiness. So go out, immerse yourself. 120 minutes per week!


Happy Earth Day,


Hillary


PS: Today we release our Annual Earth Commitment Report, an account of our environmental and sustainability efforts for the year. You have chosen to get your acupuncture from a business that is doing 70.1% better than other health businesses of a similar size in terms of carbon expenditure and gave over $1200 back to the Earth in its second year in business. We will keep trying to do better, that's why we measure.

 
References

* Robbins, Jim. “Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health - Yale E360.” Yale E360, Yale 360 Environment, 9 Jan. 2020, https://e360.yale.edu/features/ecopsychology-how-immersion-in-nature-benefits-your-health.


White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3


§ World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe. (2021). Green and blue spaces and mental health: new evidence and perspectives for action. World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe. https://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/342931. License: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO


Rook, Graham A. "Regulation of the Immune System by Biodiversity from the Natural Environment: An Ecosystem Service Essential to Health." PNAS, vol. 110, no. 46, 2013, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1313731110. Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.


** Latham, Frankie Adkins and Katherine. “The Surprising Benefits of Blue Spaces.” Www.bbc.com, BBC Future, 9 Nov. 2022, www.bbc.com/future/article/20221108-the-doctors-prescribing-blue-therapy. Accessed 3 Apr. 2023.

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