Two Cups of Coffee Can Reduce the Risk of Liver Disease, Study Finds

Here’s some good news for those who enjoy a coffee: scientists have managed to link regular consumption of it to a reduced risk of liver cirrhosis. Having two cups of coffee a day appears to reduce the chances of developing the disease by 44 percent, based on data from 430,000 individuals spread over nine studies.

“Cirrhosis is potentially fatal, and there is no cure as such,” lead researcher Oliver Kennedy from the University of Southampton in the UK told The Washington Post. “Therefore, it is significant that the risk of developing cirrhosis may be reduced by consumption of coffee, a cheap, ubiquitous, and well-tolerated beverage.”

The researchers analysed five cohort studies and four case-control studies involving 1,990 cases and 432,133 participants, and found that in eight of the nine studies, the risk of cirrhosis continued to decline as the number of cups consumed continued to rise, leading them to conclude that increasing coffee consumption may sub-stantially reduce the risk of cirrhosis. The team wasn’t able to distinguish between different types of coffee or brewing methods.

Cirrhosis is estimated to cause the death of around 1 million people every year, and can be caused by excessive alcohol consumption, hepatitis infections, immune disorders, and fatty liver disease (linked to obesity and diabetes).

Despite containing compounds that offer antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory properties, coffee cannot reverse the “systematic damage” of lifestyle choices that tend to bring on cirrhosis, according to New York University senior clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller, who wasn’t involved in the study.

In other words, if you’re drinking too heavily, don’t expect a couple of cups of coffee to save your body from the punishing effects. However, it does appear that coffee offers some protection against the onset of the cirrhosis of the liver.

“This could be an important finding for patients at risk of cirrhosis to help to improve their health outcomes,” said Oliver Kennedy in a press release. “However, we now need robust clinical trials to investigate the wider benefits and harms of coffee so that doctors can make specific recommendations to patients.”

Few drinks attract as much attention as coffee from scientists. The hot beverage has previously been found to affect our circadian rhythms, lower the risk of skin cancer, and reduce the risk of developing diabetes. If you want to know all of the ways that the caffeine plays around with your body, consult this infographic.

The findings have been published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

The Health Benefits of Art

Creating and interpreting art can be intimidating to the average person, but science proves you don’t to have possess artistic talent to reap the numerous health benefits art has to offer. Whether your masterpiece is worthy of hanging in a museum or on the fridge, art gives you the freedom to release your inhibitions and try something new without the fear of falling short.

Viewing and producing art can have significant positive impacts on the mind and body. From reducing stress to improving quality of life, art is a powerful health tool that is helping people of all ages worldwide.

Art Reduces Stress

Making and viewing art can reduce cortisone levels that contribute to stress. A 2016 study analyzed saliva samples of 39 healthy adults to test cortisol levels before and after 45 minutes of art making. The results indicated that creating art led to a significant lowering of cortisol levels. Participants also stated that they felt more relaxed and free of constraints after the art-making session and were more eager to continue producing art in the future.

If you don’t feel comfortable making art on your own, or prefer guidelines to help with creation, break out your colored pencils and try an “anti-stress” adult coloring book. Adult coloring books have become a popular trend in recent years and are proven to be therapeutic and relaxing to the mind. Similar to meditation, coloring allows you to focus on one thing at a time; this helps to alleviate anxiety.

Art is Good for the Mind

Because art is not an exact science like math, people can learn to develop creative problem-solving skills when creating art. Even medical professionals rely on art to sharpen their minds. “Enhancing Observational Skills” is a museum-based program that is now required class for first year Yale medical students. The idea is to teach students how to observe and see clearly in order to later care for their patients in the best way possible.

Creating art can also improve self-esteem. When you finish a project, you experience a sense of accomplishment and happiness. This applies in the art arena as well. When completing a work of art, these same feelings occur and can lead to heightened dopamine levels.

Art Can Improve Quality of Life

Art has been proven to be a powerful therapeutic tool. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are most commonly subjected to art therapy as a way to improve focus and communication skills that are affected by the diseases. Creating art stimulates the senses and can even assist in the recollection of seemingly dormant memories.

Art is also a popular therapy for cancer patients. In a study, children who were going through painful cancer procedures and were exposed to art therapy ultimately expressed more positive and collaborative behavior. Adults and children alike who go through traumatic experiences often internalize the pain they feel as a result. Art and art therapy allows people to express and release the experiences that are too agonizing to verbalize.

How Can Tech Make A Bigger Impact On Our Health?

Look at the wrists of people as you walk along the street, and chances are you’ll see one or two fitness trackers in the mix. They sell well, but are they actually successful in delivering behavioral change? The evidence is decidedly mixed, and even if the person whose wrist you’re ogling looks in great shape, that’s half the problem: the kind of person who buys a fitness tracker is already motivated, and that bare wrist on the man next to them may once have had a band, before he lost interest.

If there was an overriding theme running throughout ActiveLab Live – a one-day event where fitness-industry professionals came to discuss how technology can make people fitter – that was it. Why is this enormous install base having a limited impact on the actual health of the world? Among the delegates were also 12 health startups vying for £25,000 of seed funding – a high-stakes 60-second pitch would prove life-changing for one company.

But before they got to pitch, they would first hear plenty of discussion about the current problems with health trackers. “Just providing someone with information on what they did yesterday and today isn’t necessarily enough to empower most people to change their behaviour,” argued Charlotte Bearn, head of startup ventures at the Behavioral Insights Team. To that end, when looking to make a change, they recommend making sure interventions and actions are easy, attractive, social and/or timely. Ideally all four.

Lara Clements, audience and evaluation lead at the Wellcome Trust, agreed with this analysis. “We know self-monitoring works, we know reward feedback loops work, but something that often gets neglected is remembering the wider context in which people work,” she explained. “People’s motivations ebb and flow, and people’s decision making isn’t very rational, so instead of giving them rational facts, it’s about making things meaningful and personal to them.”

We’re surprised that people’s length of stay in the fitness industry and adoption of exercise is not that strong, but then you do all this exercise and you can’t walk for four days afterwards! There aren’t many parts of that journey that are particularly positive.” Gamification and social elements have worked for MyZone (and others), but there’s still the problem of how to overcome that initial unpleasant feeling that many get from exercise and healthy living.

One interesting case study was shared by Samsung Europe’s head of corporate communications, Mark Hutcheon. “There was a nice experiment done by Adidas when they were developing miCoach,” he recalled. Half the participants were asked to take a photo of themselves post-exercise and were then shown the previous day’s picture before the notification came to run again. “Those that got photos of themselves endorphined up, looking great, were four times as likely to complete the programme and do it at a better, higher level. That’s a very simple thing to do – you don’t need artificial intelligence to remind someone that it’s enjoyable.”

Did someone say artificial intelligence? Yes, although the simple change above doesn’t require AI, it’s the view of Hutcheon that it’s this that will take fitness trackers to the next level. “We’re at the first generation of wearables, and while they sell bucketloads, I don’t think they’re that effective,” he explains. “I think the really interesting second phase is AI-based cognitive machines that will coach you. Whatever the wearable give them in terms of data – how you’re feeling, energy levels or performances – it will coach you, motivate you and encourage you. That’s where I think all the gaps will start to get filled in.”

Of course, the future of fitness doesn’t have to be wearable – in fact, in some ways thinking inside that particular box limits how wide the blue sky is, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors. With that in mind, there were 12 companies looking to pitch for an impressive £25,000 package from the event’s sponsors, including 30 hours’ free PR from Playbook, ukactive Strategic Partner Group membership and five days of sales lead generation from JMB Partnership. I can’t imagine the pressure on the speakers who had to somehow get their whole business across in a 60-second pitch followed by just a 90-second Q&A.

I spoke to a number of them beforehand, fortunately, and was pretty impressed with the clever thinking at work. There were several promising-sounding companies on display. Take ShapeLog, for instance – a bit like Chromecast for gym equipment. In other words, it makes old, dumb gym equipment smart, and they claim it can track individual gym users with 96% certainty thanks to a cunning dose of AI. That means that without wearing anything or logging in, gym visitors can expect a tailored report delivered to their phones providing stats and info about their session before they’ve even left the car park. Neat.

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Then there’s iPrescribe Exercise: on the surface of it, a familiar-sounding iPhone app, in that it logs heart rate through the camera and provides a fitness program. The clever part is that it uses your heart rate, weight, height, date of birth and up to 20 different medical conditions to provide a customized workout without needing a doctor to intervene: it’s all done via the data. Smart enough for a recent appearance in Harvard Health.

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While some – such as a Swiss-ball style controller for VR headsets – were high-tech, others were admirable in their simplicity: a site for connecting pensioners to take on sports and tackle loneliness, and StepJockey – plaques that can be installed at the bottom of office staircases showing the estimated calorie burn, and allowing employees to scan their phones as they pass them for inter-company competitions and prizes.

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The eventual winner took a different approach: instilling good habits when young. Imoves works with more than 500 schools and provides active lesson plans beyond PE, with dance elements. With the extra support, maybe the company’s desire to be part of every school in the UK will help make this the next generation of fitness tracker-enthusiasts – the type who’ll always use them, rather than leave them in a drawer, uncharged.

New Study Shows Yoga Combats Depression

As it turns out, yoga can do a lot more than just decorate your Instagram feed. Findings from Boston University School of Medicine point to yoga as an alternative to pharmaceutical treatments for depression.

Almost half of individuals using antidepressants for Major Depressive disorder (MDD) do not achieve full remission. Researchers suggest yoga-based therapy as a promising treatment to fill the gap. The study found that study participants who participated in at least two 90-minute yoga classes per week had a significant decrease in depressive symptoms.

The study looked specifically into a technique called “Iyengar yoga” that focuses on precise alignment and breathing exercises. Researchers paired Iyengar yoga positions with transitions into periods of relaxation to enhance the potential relief effects for patients with MDD.

The research, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, randomized study participants with MDD into a high-dose group (three classes a week) and a low-dose group (two classes a week) for a 12-week yoga schedule. Both groups showed improvements in their depression symptoms, with subjects in the high-dose group testing higher in clinical improvements. Researchers used the Beck Depression Inventory-II as well as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale to track the progress of participants.

With this new information, those with Major Depressive Disorder may be able to ease their symptoms without the side effects of pharmaceutical treatments.

In a statement, the researchers concluded that the study, “supports the use of a yoga and coherent breathing intervention in major depressive disorder in people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants and have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms.”

Study Shows No Proven Link Between Weed-Smoking and Lung Cancer

The scope and methodology behind marijuana-related studies is often hindered by the fact that the weed-fearing gatekeepers have made it really difficult for researchers to, you know, research. But a fresh comprehensive study spotted by Esquire offers one of the most detailed looks at weed’s health effects yet, boasting 395 pages of raw research power.

“This report summarizes the current state of evidence regarding what is known about the health impacts of cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including effects related to therapeutic uses of cannabis and potential health risks related to certain cancers, diseases, mental health disorders, and injuries,” the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report states.

The report’s findings stem from the committee’s deep research into more than 10,000 scientific abstracts dating all the way back to 1999, aka the year Backstreet Boys’ Millennium was released. That’s probably definitely a good sign. Though the total haul of conclusions reached in the report are a bit too daunting to cram into a slice of Complex, here are some grav-worthy highlights:

  • Conclusive or substantial evidence shows that cannabis or cannabinoids are an effective method of treating chronic pain.
  • Conclusive or substantial evidence shows that cannabis or cannabinoids are an effective method of treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
  • Moderate evidence shows that cannabis or cannabinoids are good for people plagued by forms of sleep disturbance, i.e. sleep apnea or chronic pain.

Seemingly obvious findings aside, it’s nice to hear that studies have—since 1999—consistently suggested those things to be probable. But the biggest highlight is likely this little number: There is moderate evidence of “no statistical association” between smoking cannabis and lung cancer. Additionally, there is moderate evidence of no statistical association between weed use and head and neck cancers.

Enjoy Your Workout More By Cutting Out The Long, Slow Jog

Your office buddy’s CrossFit obsession may actually have a bit of science behind it, apparently.

According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, people may get more joy out of short, high-intensity workouts than in slogging away on the treadmill.

To reach this conclusion, researchers recruited 12 regularly active men and women to exercise on a bike in two ways: in eight, 1-minute-long bursts at 85 percent of their maximum workload, and at a  breezier 20-minute-long bike ride at 45 percent of their capacity. Predictably, the volunteers felt more tired and had higher heart rates during the more intense cycling session, but nearly everyone also rated it as more enjoyable than the longer bout of biking. All told, over 90 percent of the volunteers said they preferred the high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercise as well as enjoyed it more.

The sample size of 12 people was very small and consisted mostly of active people, but the authors believe their findings support an “increasing integration of HIIT into the regular exercise routine of healthy, active individuals” as a worthwhile strategy to coax people into staying fit — especially since people’s often don’t go to the gym because they don’t have the time.

When asked why they preferred the HIIT routine, the volunteers said that they just felt more bored by the longer cycling. The researchers also speculated that the greater effort spent may have made people feel more accomplished and self-confident. But interestingly enough, they also reported feeling more negative during the HIIT session than they did during the longer session. This seeming contradiction might be explained by something called the dual mode theory of exercise, the researchers said.

Basically, exercise tends to make us happier afterwards, but during it, our level of enjoyment can vary depending on a number of factors, including how hard it is. Past a certain point of physical exertion, we start feeling crummy about what we’re doing. That obvious reality has made people doubt that HIIT could ever be made popular to the average sedentary person.

But people often stop exercising soon after starting, having trouble fitting in the routine. So while HIIT exercises might not catch on for everyone, particularly those in less shape to begin with, their greater enjoyment could convince some to stick to an active lifestyle, the researchers hope.

How I Left Social Media In Order To Salvage My Sanity

I’ve been screaming my opinions at the world via the internet for a solid decade now. Back in the day, I discovered WordPress, which I filled with my views, shoddy political analysis, and banter (which I directed at other people on my blog). Then Facebook opened up! And Twitter! And Instagram! And you could link them. I have now spent a solid decade getting positive reinforcement and criticism — at least someone cares! — from strangers online.

But this is the year I have to stop.

Social media has brought us all together. But perhaps it’s brought us just a little too close. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram make it easier than ever to plug in and experience a firehose of anger, joy, fear, and “like” (love is a little strong, perhaps) with the tap of a thumb or a few keystrokes. But in a world where Twitter can facilitate digital hate crimes and Facebook is struggling to keep the news legit, let alone civil, does it make sense to turn off the firehose altogether?

In 2014, after Facebook “unzipped” Facebook Messenger, I removed the app. I still look at Facebook, of course, but my primary distraction over the last few years has been Twitter, where, in the space of a few short years, I’ve racked up thousands of tweets. In a lot of ways Twitter is the perfect intellectual treadmill: Read a snippet of a thought, click like, retweet, and move on to the next snippet. My Twitter timeline is a sea of RTs and favs.

Over the last few months, though, Twitter hasn’t exactly been a source of joy. The issue, really, is that the election threw everyone who fancies themselves a smart person (pretty much anyone with a computer and an opinion) a giant hunk of red meat tinged with panic to gnaw on. I discovered that my anxiety grew rapidly via the platform. Twitter, for all its flaws, is an excellent way to get these concerns, and opinions on them, front and center.

So I started tweeting, RTing, and sharing to make my voice heard. At the same time I started having trouble sleeping and began feeling more anxious and miserable over other’s petty unsubstantiated opinions an comments.

It’s not a secret that social media can affect our mental health. Since the inception of Facebook, we’ve discovered that social media can make us depressed, exhaust us physically, and leave us anxious, but it might also have positive impacts on self-esteem and be a place to connect for people with mood disorders and other struggles, offering a support network. It’s really all about fitting these new(ish) platforms into your life in a healthy way.

“People use social media for an experience, to feel a greater depth of feelings: to feel more connected, to laugh, to share things they’re proud of, to be jointly enraged,” she says. “We connect on social media for the same reasons we connect with people in real life: to feel something. And the opposite is also true: Social media can also be used not to amplify emotions, but to deaden them.”

That was really the thing I experienced. Even before the election, something was always on fire on Facebook and Twitter; there was always something to be angry about, and it was constant, never-ending.

Twitter is very, very good at surfacing news, and the old adage of “If it bleeds, it leads” holds true. Unless you fill your feed with kittens, puppies and cute overload — and that’s a valid strategy — if your friends are watching the news, they’re going to share it with you. In some ways, that’s a good thing, but it also means you’re constantly seeing something else that leaves you aghast.

What struck me was that I didn’t think about any of this or the impact that my immersion in social media was having on my psyche. When a friend asked me, point blank, whether I’d considered just deleting Twitter off my phone, the answer was “No, I just haven’t.” At all. Looking at it, and looking at my Twitter usage, it occurred to me that Twitter fit so seamlessly and easily into my life — a series of pellets fed to me so that I’d make more pellets for others to consume — and that there was so little tangible cost to using it, that I simply hadn’t thought about the intangible costs. I recommend logging out completely, so “when you pick up your phone to check your page, you’re confronted with the log-in screen, rather than your home page. There’s a barrier between you and the pleasurable reward of your notifications.”

The idea of removing Twitter from my phone, when I seriously considered it, didn’t fill me with fear; it filled me with relief. I can’t delete my Twitter account entirely — Twitter is great for getting your writing in front of eyeballs — but for a long moment I had to ask myself whether having it on my phone worth it. Was having it sitting there, tempting me to get on the discourse treadmill every night, rewarding me? It wasn’t. Into the fire it went (literally).

The results were almost immediate. I stopped getting sucked into tweeting and posting until the wee hours, of course, but I also managed to get a little distance between myself and the nonsense everyone spews forth. I tweet less and I tweet more judiciously. I still get enraged when I come across idiots posting on the many pages I manage for work, but they don’t drag on for hundreds of tweets and/or comments.

I’m still anxious. I’m still afraid for my daughters’ futures, worried about the direction of the country, and sometimes spend an hour fuming over amateur politics that anger total strangers on the internet. But I’m sleeping better, and I’ve found that if I only use social media during work hours, I’m still informed, but less angry, mostly because I no longer get into pointless fights with total strangers, and immature people I allegedly thought I knew. I do not miss the treadmill, and I find I can more easily set aside my worries for a few hours to sleep if I’m not constantly being reminded they exist. Connects Tampa Bay Area Residents with Top Fitness & Wellness Professionals

In a launch timed perfectly for the new year, Training in the Bay went live, and experts say that the Tampa Bay fitness scene has never been more accessible. The website, which makes it easier for locals to discover health resources based on their locations and interests, is designed to offer a superior solution for those trying to stay in shape. It also has substantial potential to bolster the region’s thriving fitness business ecosystem.

Training in the Bay differentiates itself from other fitness resources by offering something for everyone. The platform is the brainchild of noted Internet marketer Julian Hooks, whose expertise extends well beyond the domain of fitness and health. He decided to apply his extensive knowledge of SEO, content marketing and social media to a noble task by helping the communities he loves stay healthier.

“Residents of the Tampa Bay, St. Pete and Clearwater areas no longer have to search forever to find businesses that cater to their individual health and fitness demands, ” Hooks says. “Even better, the audiences that businesses reach through our site are already receptive to their message, so they don’t have to work quite as hard to wade through potentially uninterested consumers.”

According to insiders, the Training in the Bay platform is also novel because it caters specifically to the region’s growing population of health enthusiasts. Clearly designed for ease of use, the well-organized website lets users search for their chosen fitness venues, such as gyms, boot camps or yoga studios, without having to go through logins or ads. Alternatively, they can explore the map views to discover what kinds of things are close to their favorite neighborhoods and haunts. The site also features a review system that makes it easier for users to hone their searches, and it routinely hosts blogs and articles written by experts who offer unique insights on relevant topics, such as nutrition, healthy weight control and training motivation.

Training in the Bay also offers regional businesses a chance to do far more than they could with other directories. Companies can tailor their listings to highlight the kinds of services that they specialize in, which grants them unmatched power to engage in highly targeted outreach without seeming overly aggressive. They can also customize the HTML code on their listing pages to incorporate videos, music, images and other media. Observers say that the ability to create and maintain up-to-date information that reflects ongoing promotions and offerings gives gyms, individual trainers and other enterprises more power to harmonize their branding efforts.

Like individual users, businesses benefit from unhindered access to a straightforward platform. Companies can either claim existing listings associated with their locations or upload their own, and the platform allows them to add details like contact information, operating hours and areas of specialization. Training in the Bay is designed to reward marketers and owners that use it for engagement. Those that provide more information make their businesses far easier for the public to find and have fulfilling interactions with.

Being active on Training in the Bay is sure to prove rewarding for companies and regular Tampa Bay citizens alike. Fitness and health providers get the chance to promote themselves and spread awareness while exposing their existing marketing assets, like YouTube and Instagram content, to broader audiences. Consumers gain novel resources that help them not only stay healthy but also link up with their like-minded peers.

Will Training in the Bay help more people stick to their New Year’s fitness resolutions? Although it’s ultimately up to each individual, the platform is well-poised to bring lofty goals within closer reach for many Floridians. Hooks’ own love of fitness and proven internet marketing expertise appear to be the ideal combination for helping people start off 2017 right and keep up their good habits for years to come.

5 Ways Beer Is Good For You

If you enjoy a beer at the end of the day, it may do more than just relax you after a long day at work. Researchers are finding that there are many ways beer can be beneficial — when it’s consumed in moderation, of course. These health and social benefits of beer may surprise you.

Beer is brain food

Researchers found a compound in hops called xanthohumol might help to fight free radical damage in the brain and also slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The idea, according to the study published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry , is that xanthohumol might guard brain cells from damage, preventing or slowing down diseases associated with the brain degeneration.

Beer makes you happy and friendly

Again, moderation is the key to this benefit. Researchers studied what consuming enough beer to raise your blood alcohol to .4 grams per liter (amount of beer consumed varied by each person’s weight) did to people’s emotions. Half of the people in the study were given alcoholic beer, and half were given non-alcoholic beer, according to Science Daily .

Those given the beer with alcohol were more likely to recognize happy faces more quickly, want to be with others in a happy social situation, and “has a surprising effect on sexual perception,” according to researchers from the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland.

The subjects (30 men and 30 women) took a range of tasks, including a face recognition test, an empathy test and a sexual arousal test. What researchers learned is that all the tasks were easier after drinking about half a liter of beer, especially for those who were more socially inhibited to begin with.

Beer is rehydrating

Philadelphia’s Fishtown Beer Runner’s Club ends its group runs at a local bar with a beer. While that may seem like it might cancel out the good a run does, science says differently, according to Drink Philly . A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition compared how well beer rehydrated someone after exercise to how well water did. The conclusion? If you’re healthy, beer in moderate amounts will hydrate as effectively as water.

Beer provides iron

Beer is rich in iron, and dark beer has more of the mineral than light beer, according to Science Daily . Iron helps carry oxygen from your lungs to muscles and organs. Without it, you will feel more tired and cranky. Researchers from University of Valladolid in Spain looked at 40 brands of beer and found that dark beer has more free iron than light or non-alcoholic beers.

Beer aids in digestion

This one may come as a surprise since drinking too much beer can leave you feel bloated, but beer may make it easier to digest food, according to Everyday Health . University of Vienna researchers found that the bitter acids in beer trigger the release of gastric acid in the stomach, and that acid is important for food digestion. It also curbs the growth of bad gut bacteria.

Of course, the detriments of drinking too much alcohol far outweigh the benefits of moderate drinking. If you’re going to drink beer for its benefits, do so lightly.

Just 30 Minutes of Nature a Week Could Reduce Your Risk of Depression and Heart Disease

Just 30 minutes a week spent outdoors – whether you’re visiting the park, hiking, or exploring new tracks with your dog – is enough to lower your risk of developing high blood pressure and depression, a new study has found.

Australian researchers also found that city residents who made an effort to spend time in a ‘green space’ once a week were more comfortable being in social situations, so it really is time to shut your computer and get some air.

“If everyone visited their local parks for half an hour each week, there would be 7 percent fewer cases of depression and 9 percent fewer cases of high blood pressure,” says ecologist Danielle Shanahan from the University of Queensland.

Shanahan and her team analysed data from 1,538 residents of the city of Brisbane, Queensland, who were asked about their weekly habits when it came to nature and physical activity, and assessed on their mental and physical health.

The participants’ experiences of nature were measured by three factors: the average frequency of visits to outdoor ‘green spaces’ during a year; the average duration of visits to these spaces across a week; and the intensity of nature in these spaces – measured by the amount and complexity of greenery in that space. 

Health risks for the group were established using a standardised test that identifies mild or worse depression, anxiety or stress, and recording who’s undergone treatment for high blood pressure. 

An individual’s perception of social cohesion – which means a willingness to cooperate with others in a social situation – was assessed via responses to a survey that measures things like trust, reciprocal exchange within communities, and general community cohesion.

The team found that people who made regular long visits to green spaces had lower rates of depression and high blood pressure, and those who visited more frequently had greater social cohesion. 

“Higher levels of physical activity were linked to both duration and frequency of green space visits,” they conclude in the journal Scientific Reports. “A dose-response analysis for depression and high blood pressure suggest that visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes or more during the course of a week could reduce the population prevalence of these illnesses by up to 7 percent and 9 percent respectively.”

There are, of course, limitations in this research, the biggest two being that the participants self-reported their outdoor activity, so the results could be slightly skewed, and that the researchers can only show a correlation between exposure to nature and health benefits – they have not examined the biological changes going on inside the participants that could explain this link.

But the findings of this study aren’t new – they build on a great deal of scientific literature that has found real benefits to the simple act of getting outside every once in a while. 

Back in July 2015, a similar study found that a 90-minute walk through a grassland area actually altered the participants’ neural activity in relation to ‘rumination’ – repetitive thoughts focused on negative aspects of the self that can lead to an increased risk of depression.

Peter Dockrill explained for us last year:

“By performing brain scans on the walkers before and after the expedition, the team found that neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain that’s active during rumination – had decreased in the volunteers who explored the natural environment. Their experience was consistent with this finding, with the group reporting that they found themselves ruminating less during the walk.”

Another study from earlier this year found that simply taking a walk down a tree-lined street – even in an urban setting – could significantly lower stress levels, with volunteers exposed to nature showing they were better able to keep their cool when faced with some truly horrifying experiences, like preparing to deliver a speech, and performing a subtraction test in front of judges. 

And, at the very least, just getting out into the natural light might actually save you from near-sightedness, no trees required, so if you can make one change to your routine, make it an outdoors one. You’ve really got nothing to lose, plus your dog will love you even more.