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Colorado College freshmen Katerine Beard, left, and Kendall Havill wear masks as they walk across campus Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

People who spent more time outdoors during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced less anxiety and depressions than others, according to a new study published by the University of Colorado Boulder researchers. 

The new study published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday also found that as mental health issued soared during the height of the pandemic, more than a third of the studies participants stated they spent more time outdoors during this time than they did before the pandemic began.

"This research shows how critical it is to keep parks and green spaces open in times of crisis," said Collen Reid, an assistant professor at the university and senior author of the study. "It also shows, as a public health measure, more effort should be made to put green spaces and make them accessible."

The leaders of the study administered a survey between November 2019 to January 2021 to nearly 1,200 people. The survey gauged the participants viewpoints on green spaces near their homes and included questions regarding visibility, accessibility, use and quality, according to the university.

"Not surprisingly, we found that the pandemic impacted mental health negatively," said Co-Author Emma Rieves, a master's student at the university. "But we also found that green space could have a powerful protective effect, even at a time of such extraordinary stressors."

The survey also gauged the participants levels of stress relating to the pandemic, supply shortage issues and job losses.

To the authors surprise, they found no association between people being diagnosed with the virus and poor mental health. However, participants indicated when they showed symptoms and couldn't be tested was a major stressor, according to the study.

Participants who lost their jobs, indicated they worked in an "unsafe work environment" or increased the amount of time reading about the virus had poorer mental health.

The biggest stressor was the fear of supply shortages in items such as toilet paper and food, according to the study.

Many of the recipients reported on the survey to alleviate the stress, they went outside, which they said helped lower depression and anxiety.

"It's not just about being able to see trees from your home. The amount, quality and accessibility of that green space matters," said Rieves. 

This study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests green space has a measurable impact on health. One theory known as the "biophilia hypothesis" states humans innately seek connections with the outdoors as the environment "influences stress hormones in a way that promotes healing and fends off disease," according to the study. 

In the past, correlations between outdoor green spaces and human health have been scrutinized due to the fact that people with higher incomes have more access to green spaces, according to the study. 

Although researchers differ on opinions of the correlation, Rieves said one thing is clear.

"Spend more time outside," she said. "Pandemic or no pandemic, it's good for your mental health."

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