Greener Spaces, Healthier Places: On The Restorative Health Effects of Nature Exposure
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Nature Exposure is a health behavior that has shown to have promising effects to help reduce allosteric load, alleviating chronic symptoms felt due to long-term stress responses. The fact that nature exposure is largely renewable and of low cost to those who participate gives nature exposure the potential to reduce societal income-based health inequalities. This thesis seeks to answer the questions of what exactly are the benefits conferred by exposure to nature, what are the physiological mechanisms and scientific backing behind these benefits, and how can this health behavior be measurably increased through a multi-layer public health intervention targeting nature-deprived elementary school children. In order to best frame and analyze this subject, my thesis begins with an assessment of our current healthcare system and the areas where nature exposure could provide a low-cost, easy alternative to other therapeutic treatments, then provides a comprehensive review of the most recent and convincing research concerning the many physiological benefits of nature exposure and the explanations and evidence behind these phenomena. Following the breakdown of all the evidence behind why nature exposure has legitimate health effects, I provide a demographic profile of the types of populations that do or do not participate in nature exposure activities and why. I then interpret this data through theoretical frameworks like the Health Belief Model and Integrated Behavior Model, showing how factors like perceived benefits, perceived barriers, self-efficacy, attitudes and social norms can heavily impact whether an individual engages in nature exposure. Based on these theoretical frameworks, I make informed suggestions regarding what types of interventions on mass media, environmental, and systematic levels are ideal for an initiative designed to target nature deprived youth in a city such as Austin, Texas.