Costa Rica is a nation that holds over 25% of its land mass in nature reserves and people are increasingly choosing to buy real estate in Costa Rica for its abundance of “green spaces.” Current research shows big correlations between the amount of time that we spend in green spaces and our mental health and well-being. And for those of us who want to feel our best, it is natural that Costa Rica’s pristine environment beacons us to call it home.
“Green space” is an umbrella term used to describe either maintained or unmaintained environmental areas, which can include nature reserves, wilderness environments and urban parks. In urban contexts, green spaces are purposefully designated for their recreational or aesthetic merits. But in the Costa Ballena region of Costa Rica, life organizes itself around green spaces.
Global urbanization has reduced our access to and engagement with green spaces, even though there is a good amount of evidence to prove that being in green spaces improves mental health and well-being. Air quality, physical activity, stress and social integration are all important factors in how we feel every day. And in Costa Rica, green spaces are available to everyone, offering the same health benefits to all who take advantage of their surroundings.
Environments shape behaviors
Recent estimates show that physical inactivity, linked to poor walkability and lack of access to recreational areas, accounts for 3.3% of global deaths. Our regular environments invite different types of possibilities into our lives. Nature invites experiences of physical activity that promote well-being. The more green space there is available, the more likely a person is to engage in physical activity. And physical activity is the great link between green spaces and mental health and well-being.
‘Green exercise’ is a term used to express physical exercise in green spaces. People who use the natural environment for green exercise at least once a week have about half the risk of poor mental health compared with those who do not. Each extra weekly green exercise session reduces the risk of poor mental health by a further 6%. Compared with exercising indoors, green settings improve the results of exercise. Even just seeing nature while exercising can dramatically improve results.
Mental health and green space
Mental health conditions are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide. The treatment of these conditions is estimated to cost $2 trillion per year globally. Health systems across the world have not yet responded adequately and the gap between the need for treatment and the ability to give treatment.
Green spaces are meant to be a refuge from noise and a place of relaxation. Trees produce oxygen and help filter out harmful air pollution. Bodies of water moderate temperature (blue spaces are as important as green). When looking at real estate in Costa Rica, proximity to the best ‘green and blue spaces’ is one of the highest priorities for buyers.
Individuals living in areas with more green spaces tend to have less mental distress, less anxiety and depression, greater wellbeing and healthier cortisol levels. Large differences are even reported between those who live in very green settings (similar to our real estate in Costa Rica) compared to less green settings. The quantity and quality of nearby green spaces act as buffers for life stresses across all ages and cultures. It is evident that the vast amount of green spaces in Costa Rica has a big influence on why this is consistently chosen as one of the happiest countries to live by locals and expats every year.
Nature also benefits our emotional state and our ability to reflect on life problems. As a result, green spaces are often used in therapy.
‘Nature therapy’ is an umbrella term for a variety of techniques for improving mental health. Green interventions can include learning wilderness survival skills, gardening, conservation efforts, care farming, eco-therapy, nature-based arts and crafts, and animal-assisted interventions.
Nature therapy can enhance things like self-esteem, self-control and decision making for people with behavioral problems. For individuals living with dementia, engaging with green spaces can positively influence their eating and sleeping patterns, fitness and mobility, sense of well-being and their sense of belonging. Stress, agitation, anger, apathy and depression are all improved by spending time in nature.
The importance of choosing nature
Mental health researchers have proposed the idea that ‘self-selecting’ a greener environment creates an even more positive relationship between spending time in green areas and better health. A desire for better health and actively seeking out a better environment increases the chances of improving mental health. Those who move from a less green to a more green area have been found to show significantly better mental health for years afterward. From our experience with clients who buy real estate in Costa Rica, most continue to feel happy and grateful for their decision to move here many years later.
Contact with nature helps us function at our highest levels. People who experience negative moods are more likely to choose natural areas as their favorite places for this reason. Choosing to spend more time in nature can offer more enjoyable experiences than the same amount of time spent in any other environment. The simple exposure to nature is restorative to the mind.
The time to make a shift
Given the current amount of people suffering from mental ill-health and the global costs, there is a need for people to take elements of their well-being into their own hands. It is becoming increasingly important to incorporate green spaces into our everyday environments.
For the ultimate green space environment, consider our Costa Ballena communities in South Pacific Costa Rica. Those ready to retire to a greener setting find themselves welcomed by a diverse community of international expats who love the local pace of life. And younger entrepreneurs and digital employees are finding that Costa Rica provides a great setting to continue work in a better environment. Great healthcare, wide ranging services and amenities, entertainment and social clubs, and a pure, green environment are all wrapped nicely together into a pura vida package in our beloved Costa Ballena region.
Come experience it for yourself and let us know when you are ready to make the shift to a better way of life in Costa Rica.