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Exposure to nature may make people healthier

Several studies suggest that being in contact with nature -- or even looking at it -- can boost people's health  

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- We all know that exposure to bad things in the environment can make you sick, but could good things in the environment actually make your healthier?

Maybe so. An article in this month's American Journal of Preventive Medicine reviews several studies that suggest even looking at nature can boost people's health.

One study looked at patients recovering from surgery -- some had a view of trees, while others had a view of a brick wall.

"The patients that had a view of trees from their rooms had one day shorter hospitalization on average, less need for pain medications and fewer negative nursing notes," said the article's author, Dr. Howard Frumkin, of Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.

'Hard-wired to need nature'

Other studies showed that prisoners who have a room with a view have fewer doctor visits. And workers with views of nature reported fewer headaches.

Dr. Howard Frumkin reviewed recent studies about the effects of nature on health
Dr. Howard Frumkin reviewed recent studies about the effects of nature on health  

"Maybe it's just that the stress level is lowered, and if we're less stressed, we're healthier," said Frumkin. "Maybe there's something else. Maybe biochemical changes occur as a response to trees, plants or animals. I don't think we really know."

Perhaps, he theorizes, human beings are just hard-wired to need nature.

"Our early ancestors were born, lived and died in a very intimate contact with nature. They needed to have good sense for how nature worked. They needed to be able to smell the water, feel the wind," Frumkin explained.

So what does that mean for urban society, where many people go from house to car to office and back again?

Maybe, Frumkin suggests, doctors should prescribe a walk in the park, an afternoon of gardening, a weekend at the beach -- and let nature take its course.

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American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University

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