I need a stronger dose of Vitamin G. No, not Riboflavin or Vitamin B2 as it is sometimes called, but Vitamin G: the Green Space Vitamin! Everyday there seems to be more data confirming my personal beliefs that being around, in and associated with green space promotes health, well-being and an enhanced social safety network (reducing stress, anger, frustration and aggression) in all of us. There is a strong, positive relationship found between the amount of green space in our living environment and physical and mental health and longevity.

Researchers have been studying this issue for some time and have discovered that us, human beings, are “phytotrophic”- we are attracted to environments that include trees, grass and other natural elements.

Much like a vitamin that you eat, drink or rub on your skin, Vitamin G can be taken in many ways. Research shows the benefit of nature broadens to varying avenues of exposure and beneficial contact with nature need not involve getting one’s hands dirty. Gardening is beneficial, but so is walking, jogging, biking or even canoeing through a natural setting.* Even non-nature focused activities, such as reading or playing basketball, in a relatively green setting is more beneficial than the same activities indoors or in a less green outdoor setting.* Even a simple window view has measurable effects. Also like a vitamin, evidence suggests that contact with nature is needed in frequent and regular doses.

“Vitamin G seems to be beneficial regardless of its physical form. Research shows that the benefits of nature seem to extend to a tremendous variety of stimuli (e.g. large forests, small urban gardens, prairies, nature preserves, vest-pocket parks, mountains, landscapes with water features, an aquarium in an office, tree-lined city streets, shady back yards, and soccer fields).”* Seeing and being in any form of green space benefits us, regardless of its shape, size and texture.

Unfortunately, many policy makers, at least up until now, view green space as a luxury good rather than as a basic necessity, overlooking the important and beneficial effects of green space on our health, well-being and safety. In fact, for those of us tied to our homes a bit more closely (elderly, children, low income adults), defined green spaces are even more important to our health! “The tight integration of natural elements into the urban fabric can now be thought of as preventative medicine – a public health measure designed to reduce physical, social, and psychological breakdown in urban dwellers.”

For many of us that don’t have the opportunity (and that green peace of mind derived from this) of owning a cabin or destination green space, we need better policy, design and implementation to happen within our communities, in order to maximize our exposure to Vitamin G. I know in St. Louis Park, we try to incorporate many green items, for example we have a master sidewalk and trail plan (some of it still needs to be implemented, but it is planned for) that provides opportunities to experience green boulevards, parkways, wooded areas and other green features. We also provide many parks, of varying size, easily experienced by most folks, since all are within a quarter mile of any residence. But there is room for improvement in our attaining our recommended doses of our citywide Vitamin G.

Vitamin G is a critically important vitamin. I hope Vitamin G becomes a daily staple of every community and person’s diet…our health and welfare depends upon it!

Jim Vaughn is the Environmental Coordinator of the City of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. This blog originally appeared in the St. Louis Park Sun-Sailor.