Parks aren’t just for children. Granted, playgrounds are probably enjoyed more by swing-and-slide-seeking youngsters, than parents. However, leafy commons, open meadows and in-city green spaces are beneficial to us all – it’s official.
It’s about cortisol – the hormone that our bodies produce when we’re stressed. A little of it is a good thing in life, but too much can lead to complications including high blood pressure, weight gain and, in certain cases, depression. A study by scientists in Scotland compared people living in cities and rural regions, finding it was those in greener areas who had lower cortisol levels.
If you’re often feeling tired, struggling to concentrate, perhaps feeling a little low and don’t know why, then ask – when was the last time you spent time outdoors? And not just popping to put the bins out! When did you last feel the wind on your face, take a deep breath of freshly-cut grass or listen to leaves rustling in the breeze?
If it’s been a while, then the cause of your low mood could be ‘nature deficit disorder’. Coined in 2005 by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, the phrase explores the idea that the less time we spend outdoors, the worse we feel.
It’s no secret that green is good for you. Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson has spent a lifetime writing about the (deep breath) ‘biophilia hypothesis’ – basically reminding us that we evolved in natural environments, so it’s logical that being exposed to nature would have a positive effect on us.
Researchers think that when we’re in green spaces we unconsciously focus on the small visual changes happening around us, such as birds moving from place to place.
This helps the area of our brains dealing with more complicated issues to unwind – something the scientists call ‘attention restoration theory’.
Ecotherapy, supported by the charity Mind among others, is a form of treatment shown to be effective for mental health issues. Ecotherapy encompasses a wide range of interventions from gentle gardening to full-blown survival camping trips but, at the heart of the concept, is the understanding that time spent outdoors, surrounded by nature and open space, will improve wellbeing.
But not everyone has plentiful green space on their doorstep. According to the United Nations, half the world’s population is living in a city where populations are rising, yet green spaces are in decline.
London is no different, but Elephant Park is bucking the trend. At the heart of a major transformation in Elephant & Castle is a two-acre park – a much-needed green space for the community, the first half of which opened to the public last year.
There is a strong focus on nature and creating habitat for wildlife, with the ongoing aim for a host of animals and insects to make the park their home.
The open space has retained existing mature trees, as well as planting more new ones, a modern children’s play area and a performance space – a haven to relax and enjoy life in the middle of the city.
So, if you want to make small changes to boost your wellbeing, visit your local park or simply head out to your nearest green space and take a walk – you’ll feel better for it.