Nature's contributions in coping with a pandemic in the 21st century: A narrative review of evidence during COVID-19

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Apr 6;833:155095. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.155095. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

While COVID-19 lockdowns have slowed coronavirus transmission, such structural measures also have unintended consequences on mental and physical health. Growing evidence shows that exposure to the natural environment (e.g., blue-green spaces) can improve human health and wellbeing. In this narrative review, we synthesized the evidence about nature's contributions to health and wellbeing during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that during the pandemic, people experienced multiple types of nature, including both outdoors and indoors. Frequency of visits to outdoor natural areas (i.e., public parks) depended on lockdown severity and socio-cultural contexts. Other forms of nature exposure, such as spending time in private gardens and viewing outdoor greenery from windows, may have increased. The majority of the evidence suggests nature exposure during COVID-19 pandemic was associated with less depression, anxiety, stress, and more happiness and life satisfaction. Additionally, nature exposure was correlated with less physical inactivity and fewer sleep disturbances. Evidence was mixed regarding associations between nature exposure and COVID-related health outcomes, while nature visits might be associated with greater rates of COVID-19 transmission and mortality when proper social distancing measures were not maintained. Findings on whether nature exposure during lockdowns helped ameliorate health inequities by impacting the health of lower-socioeconomic populations more than their higher-socioeconomic counterparts for example were mixed. Based on these findings, we argue that nature exposure may have buffered the negative mental and behavioral impacts of lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovery and resilience during the current crises and future public health crises might be improved with nature-based infrastructure, interventions, designs, and governance.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus pandemic; Greenspace; Health; Nature exposure; Nature-based solutions.

Publication types

  • Review