Visiting parks linked to reduced use of medication

Regular visits to urban green spaces, such as parks, may be linked to reduced use of some prescription medicines, according to a Finnish study published today.

Research led by scientists at Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Kuopio, made the association after wanting to establish if the amount of residential green or blue space, frequency of green space visits, and views of green and blue spaces from home were separately associated with the use of certain prescription medicines.

They drew on the responses of 16,000 randomly selected residents of Helsinki, Espoo, and Vantaa – the largest urban area of Finland – to the Helsinki Capital Region Environmental Health Survey in 2015-16.

The survey looked at how participants, all of whom were aged 25 and over, experience residential green and blue spaces within a 1km radius of their home.

They were also asked to report if they used any prescription medicines for anxiety, insomnia, and depression, high blood pressure and asthma, for periods ranging from within the previous week up to more than a year ago or never.

Respondents were asked how often they spent time, or exercised, outdoors, in green spaces, during May and September, as well as if they could see green or blue spaces from any of their windows at home.

The final analysis included approximately 6,000 participants who provided complete information.

Writing in Occupational & Environmental Medicine, the team says this showed the amount of residential green and blue spaces, or views of them from home, were not associated with the use of prescription medicines for mental health, insomnia, high blood pressure or asthma.

However, this changed when they considered the frequency of green space visits.

Compared with less than one weekly visit, visiting three to four times a week was associated with 33% lower odds of using mental health medicines, 36% lower odds of using blood pressure medicines, and 26% lower odds of using asthma medicines.

The equivalent figures for visiting at least five times a week were 22%, 41%, and 24% lower, respectively.

The effects of visiting green spaces were also stronger among those reporting the lowest annual household income ( below €30,000), but the research team say overall, the associations found did not depend on household income and educational attainment.

Although this is an observational study, and cannot establish cause and effect, the researchers say: “Mounting scientific evidence supporting the health benefits of nature exposure is likely to increase the supply of high quality green spaces in urban environments and promote their active use. This might be one way to improve health and welfare in cities.”

Turunen AW, Halonen J, Korpela K et al. Cross-sectional associations of different types of nature exposure with psychotropic, antihypertensive and asthma medication. Occupational & Environmental Medicine 17 January 2023; doi 10.1136/oemed-2022-108491


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