If you’re struggling to keep your resolution to become healthy this year, turns out you can in fact cancel your gym membership — you just have to live next to a national park. A new study, published in Science Adventures, found that people living near protected areas like national parks, wilderness areas, and nature reserves, are generally healthier and more financially stable than those living far from such natural areas.
Researchers looked at 60,000 households in 34 developing countries around the world, as well as data from households within 6.2 miles of a protected area, and compared it against households located farther away.
They discovered that people living near conservation areas were 17 percent wealthier and had a 16 percent lower chance of poverty. Interestingly, they also found that children under five who lived near parks were 10 percent taller than those who didn’t.
According to Drew Gerky, assistant professor of anthropology at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, easy and convenient access to protected spaces is hugely important. “The multiple-use areas are where you see a lot of the positive impacts for people’s health and wealth,” he said. “The boundaries are relaxed in a way that allows local people to access resources but doesn’t impinge on the larger goal of conservation.”
Communities near protected areas generally see more tourism, which results in additional employment opportunities and greater income. They also often benefit from better environmental conditions and an abundance of healthy, locally harvested plants. These links could explain the results of the study, though no concrete, direct cause has been identified yet.