By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of “Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us.”
Our series Healthy Planet, Healthy You explores just how tightly human health and environmental health are intertwined–for better and for worse. Each month, we’ll share the latest news on how nature can rejuvenate us on one hand and damage our health when it’s not cared for on the other. We’ll end with timely tips and tools to help you care for your environment so it can care for you.
Climate change is quite literally keeping us up at night.
A new study out of Denmark provides even more evidence that global warming will impact our ability to snooze. Based on sleep and weather data collected on nearly 50,000 people around the world, the research found that by 2099, the average person can expect to lose 50 to 58 hours of sleep per year due to uncomfortably high temps. That’s because temperature increases actually seem to be highest during nighttime hours–precisely when you want to keep your environment cool. Like so many facets of climate change, this will likely have the greatest impact on less affluent communities lacking adequate ventilation and air conditioning. (Read the research here.)
Urban green space can save thousands of lives per year.
Having access to nature can work wonders for our physical and mental health, and it has been shown to reduce mortality risk too. To quantify just how beneficial green space is to lifespan, researchers out of Boston analyzed county-level mortality data in 35 busy U.S. cities. They’re predicting that between 34,000 and 38,000 deaths could have been avoided between 2000 to 2019 with just a slight increase in urban green space. The good news is that we are heading in the right direction, and cities are going greener at a faster clip than they were at the turn of the century. (Read the research here.)
When it comes to protecting mental health, choose green time over screen time.
We all had our own ways of coping at the height of the pandemic, and a research team out of Switzerland recently set out to find if technology (“screen time”) or nature exploration (“green time”) was more beneficial for the mental health of Swiss young people between fall 2020 and spring 2021. Unsurprisingly–but importantly!–screen time was a risk factor for mental health in this study, while green time was a protective factor. (Read the research here.)
The pandemic may have changed our nature preferences.
By studying the outdoor habits of people in Singapore before the pandemic, during the height of the pandemic lockdown, and after the pandemic, researchers got a sense of how COVID may have changed the type of nature we seek out. According to this study, the pandemic led to an increase in visits to parks–particularly those that are less manicured and perceived as being wilder. “Looking beyond the pandemic in the new normal, it is important that urban nature and green spaces continue to be accessible to all,” the study authors conclude. (Read the research here.)
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As we head into June, the local food and farming scene is heating up across the country. You’ll likely notice more stands at your local farmer’s market and bulkier boxes at your neighborhood CSA program, filled with the season’s bounty. Experts agree that buying local produce is a key aspect of healthy, sustainable eating–especially if it’s organically or regeneratively grown. Now is a great time to commit to learning more about what grows in your area, tasting your regional delicacies (I have my eye on the spring peas in NYC), and even growing some of your own food if your space allows. Pair fresh local produce with legumes, grains, mushrooms, nuts, and tinned fish for the ultimate planet-friendly meal plan.
These resources are here to help:
Whether you have an expansive yard or tiny windowsill herb garden, mbg has you covered with tips for getting the most yield. Be sure to check out our primers on starting a productive yard using planet-friendly techniques like interplanting, composting, natural pest protection, and pro-pollinator arranging this year. Connecting to land in this way is a fast track to fresh food and–as research continues to show us month after month–a healthier and more delicious life overall.