I've always experienced a special kind of happiness being outside. One of my first memories is of watching tiny cephalopods busy themselves in Sydney's tide pools. Following a move to the woods of New York (where apparently I was so stunned by how cold the snow was that I screamed), I spent as much of my time outside as inside during grade school. I even switched my college major from biology to geology so I could be outside more.
As an adult, I prioritize my time outside and choose to live in natural areas because it has proven to be the most effective cure for my anxiety. I feel happy, relaxed and mindful when I'm outdoors, even if I'm working on a laptop there. Others have noted similar effects regarding nature's antidepressant effects, and that walks in nature change your brain for the better. But now a large study has shown women who live in greener, more natural environments aren't just less stressed and happier — they also live longer.
Author and activist Rachel Carson's work spurned a grassroots environmental movement in the United States that spurred the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many of the organizations that fight for animal and planetary health today. (Photo: Image via Pexels)
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital compared risk of death with how much greenery surrounded more than 108,000 women's homes across the U.S. from 2000 to 2008. The amount of green space was determined by looking at satellite imagery over seasons and years — it's important to note this part of the data set was not self-reported, but independently verified. (Meaning it was not based on the women's impressions of how green their environments were.)
According to the report, "Green, natural environments may ameliorate adverse environmental exposures (e.g. air pollution, noise, and extreme heat), increase physical activity and social engagement, and lower stress." Since the study adjusted for mortality risk factors like age, race/ethnicity, smoking and individual- and area-level socioeconomic status, it's a solid study that shows causation between what was a 12 percent reduction deaths for those in the most verdant environments.
Dr. Sylvia Earle, (aka 'Her Deepness') is a marine biologist who was the first female head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is a National Geographic Explorer. She also founded Mission Blue, a nonprofit devoted to protecting the Earth's oceans. (Photo: Image via Pexels)
As the study's line above indicates, there are several reasons why living in a more natural setting might lead to longer life: It could be the cleaner air and cooler summer days (more trees means more shade) helped keep dangerous health issues like asthma and heart stress at bay. Or it could be that more pleasant outdoor areas encourage physical activity or spending time outside with neighbors, friends and family. Or it could be all of the above, plus the stress reduction that we already know comes from living around nature.
What's also notable about this study is it was shown to have such a strong effect among women, which made me think about all the women who have fought for a cleaner, healthier world, and encouraged me to seek out their wisdom; hence the quotes and images on this page, and the reminder that working for a greener world means working towards one that helps us live longer, too.