Natural environment exposure linked to less intense, frequent cravings

Being able to see green spaces from your home is associated with reduced cravings for alcohol, cigarettes, and harmful foods, according to new research by the University of Plymouth in England and published in the journal Health and Place.

Researchers investigated the relationship between exposure to natural environments, craving for a range of appetitive substances, and the experiencing of negative emotions or feelings. The study builds on previous research suggesting exercising in nature can reduce cravings, by demonstrating the same may be true irrespective of physical activity.  

For the study, participants completed an online survey that explored the relationships between various aspects of nature exposure, craving, and negative affect. In addition, it measured the proportion of greenspace in an individual's residential neighborhood, the presence of green views from their home, their access to a garden or allotment, and their frequency of use of public greenspaces.

The study also measured physical activity undertaken within the same time frame that cravings were assessed, showing the reduced craving occurred irrespective of physical activity level, according to the study abstract.

The results showed that having access to a garden or allotment was associated with both lower craving strength and frequency, while residential views incorporating more than 25 percent greenspace evoked similar responses.

Cravings contribute to a variety of health-damaging behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, and unhealthy eating, according to Sabine Pahl, PhD, senior author of the study. In turn, these can contribute to some of the greatest global health challenges of our time, including cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

“Showing that lower craving is linked to more exposure to green spaces is a promising first step,” said Pahl. “Further research should investigate if and how green spaces can be used to help people withstand problematic cravings, enabling them to better manage cessation attempts in the future."