Do you know what the term “Eco health” means? Up until very recently, I did not know what this term meant, either. However, after doing some research I soon discovered that Eco health simply means the effect of the ecology on our health.
Working mostly in public health, I always speak about the determinants of health that play a major role in how well or unwell one is. These factors include income, school level attainment, social surroundings and physical environment.
Essentially, Eco health is an offshoot of the physical environment that refers specifically to the “ecological determinants” of health. In fact, the “nature” that surrounds us does actually influence our wellbeing and that of our families. Each element of nature has its benefits.
According to Ecohealth Ontario:
-Reduce smog and other types of pollution by filtering out potentially harmful pollutants from the air that we breathe;
-Provide shade and protect us from the sun;
-Provide “natural” air conditioning during hot spells;
-Prevent flooding by absorbing rainfall and melted snow.
Wetlands, lakes and rivers
-Filter water which helps clean our drinking water sources;
-Take in groundwater to prevent flooding;
-Moderate the local climate (it feels cooler by the river or creek during a heat wave);
Parks and trails
-Provide natural settings for outdoor activities/recreation that promotes exercise;
-Provide contact with nature to support emotional wellness;
-Create attractive and liveable communities.
When we talk about green spaces, we mean a variety of natural and public and private landscaped areas such as parks, ravines, school yards, private yards, street trees and landscaped open spaces along streets and around buildings. Green spaces help us by:
-Promoting increased physical activity;
-Increasing social interaction;
-Controlling/moderating heat and humidity;
-Filtering the air.
The health benefits of nature
As a result of the above benefits, it is not surprising that having access to/using green spaces promotes physical activity and improves health and wellbeing. More specifically, research has shown that the presence of green spaces is associated with decreased death rates, obesity, cardiovascular disease and small-for-gestational-age births.
Improved mental health
Many studies have also shown that access to green spaces is associated with improved mental health.
For example, a study in the UK found that people living in environments with more green space reported lower mental distress and a higher sense of wellbeing.
A Dutch study found that people living in areas with higher percentages of green space felt better after stressful life events. In other words, they were better able to cope with stress.
A U.S. study found that public housing residents living in a building surrounded by trees and grass reported less aggression, violence and mental fatigue than residents living in similar areas without trees or green spaces.
On a final note, given all of the above information, it is not surprising that people participating in community gardening report increased physical activity, improved mental health and enhanced social health and community involvement.
For more information, visit: www.ecohealth-ontario.ca