When we think about being nature, we tend to imagine a long walk in the woods, but research shows that even a short stroll through a small greenspace in your community can have many of the same benefits for your body and mind.

In recent years, there has been a growing amount of research to show that access to greenspace within a community can have a huge impact on the physical, mental and emotional health of the people in these communities. We have always known that spending time in nature is good for us but science is starting to understand how our bodies and minds actually respond to greenspace and why we need to make sure greenspace is part of the communities we create.

Of course, going for a walk is a great way to stretch your legs, work your heart and get some fresh air but, it turns out, being in nature may benefit your health in another way. One study found that being in contact with plants and animals increases the amount of microorganisms on our skin and in our gut. These microorganisms are what support our immune system, enable our bodies to respond to inflammation and even regulate brain development and mood. Turns out, the reason your parents encouraged you to play in the dirt as a child could be the same reason that spending time in nature can keep you healthy as an adult.

The study even found that greenspace with more biodiversity—or more different species of plants, insects and animals—tends to impart more of these health benefits. The more species a person spends time around, the more microorganisms they come in contact with, the healthier they tend to be.

In terms of our mental and emotional health, we are also starting to understand why nothing clears our mind and boosts our mood like going for a walk. One study found that most of the things we do throughout our day, such as being in a meeting at work, talking to a friend on the phone and even driving your child to soccer practice, demands an intense focus. Being in nature, on the other hand, requires our focus but in a much more effortless way, which gives our mind a chance to rest. In other words, nature takes our mind off of whatever is causing us stress without giving our mind something else to stress about.

Again, this study also found a connection between biodiversity and the mental and emotional benefits of being in nature. The more biodiverse a greenspace, the more diverse the field of sensory perception and the more this kind of effortless focus is engaged. This means that greenspace with different kinds of trees to look at, flowers to smell and birds to listen to is going to leave your mind feeling more rested than a patch of grass and a couple trees.

This is why, as our communities grow, it is more important than ever for us to protect greenspace and preserve the biodiversity of these greenspaces. In recent years, a handful of new communities, known as Sixteen Hollow, Glenorchy and Joshua’s Meadows, have been in development in north Oakville. These communities can be found nestled in between creeks, wetlands, forests and fields—greenspaces that are protected because of policies and regulations that Conservation Halton, the Region of Halton and the Town of Oakville uphold when these kinds of communities are being created.

When the Town of Oakville decided to create a series of trails to connect these communities and greenspaces, Conservation Halton provided advice to ensure that the greenspaces would be preserved and enhanced. This included ensuring that the trails are as narrow as possible, that the trails do not interfere with creeks, wetlands and other natural features, that there is a buffer between these natural feature and the new lots being developed, that only native species of trees, shrubs and other plants are planted and that steps are taken to reduce the impact of invasive species in the area.

Today, the trails that run through North Oakville not only connect the three communities but also connect to them parks, schools, workplaces and transit hubs in the area. This means that the people living in these communities can spend time in nature even as they walk their dog, make their way to work or bring their child to baseball practice. There are also many points of access to the trails in each of these communities, so greenspace is always just a short walk away.

And for nature to be integrated into the lives of the people that make up new communities, it needs to be just that—a short walk away.

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Last modified: September 5, 2017

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