Numerous studies have highlighted the beneficial effects of contact with nature and green spaces on physical and mental health and even creativity. New research, conducted by scientists at Cornell University in the United States [1], highlights a new advantage. The study reports that frequent positive contact with nature is associated with lower levels of systemic inflammation.

To reach this conclusion, Prof. Anthony D. Ong’s team analyzed data from 1,244 participants. They were asked not only about the frequency of their exposure to nature, but also about the quality of their contact with these green spaces. "It’s not just about how often people spend time outdoors, but also the quality of their experiences," said Professor Ong, quoted in a news release.

Three biomarkers

The results showed that people who reported more frequent pleasant encounters with nature had lower levels of inflammation. Specifically, participants were tested on three biomarkers, interleukin-6 (IL-6), C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen. Elevated levels of these proteins indicate the presence of systemic inflammation. "By focusing on these inflammation markers, the study provides a biological explanation for why nature might improve health," Ong said, "particularly showing how it might prevent or manage diseases linked to chronic inflammation, like heart disease and diabetes."

"Even when controlling for other variables such as demographics, health behaviors, medication and general well-being, Ong said his team found that reduced levels of inflammation were consistently associated with more frequent positive contact with nature," the study news release reports. "And it’s this sort of nexus of exposure and experience: It’s only when you have both, when you are engaging and taking the enjoyment out of it, that you see these benefits," adds Professor Ong.

Emotions, health, and environment interplay

"These findings lay the groundwork for future investigations exploring the complex interplay between emotions, health, and the natural environment. Integrating regular contact with nature into daily experience may provide a potent means of promoting public health and fostering resilience amid the myriad challenges of modern life," the scientists conclude in their paper.