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Mental & Emotional Health

Urban Green Spaces = Mental Health Benefits

Green space in towns and cities could lead to significant and sustained improvements in mental health, According to a study published in January 2014 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK analyzed data that followed people over a five year period and found that moving to a greener area not only improved mental health but that the effect continued long after the time of the change in locale. This is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time. The team used data from over 1,000 participants in the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain. The researchers compared people who moved to greener urban areas with those who relocated to less green urban areas.

On average, people who moved to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least 3 years. The study also showed that people relocating to a more built-up area suffered a drop in mental health.

A release from the university quotes lead researcher Dr Ian Alcock as saying, “We’ve shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health. These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities.”

In 2012 the World Health Organization cited depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and this study builds on research that has found natural environments could act as vital resources to improve health and wellbeing. Yet up until now, scientists have been unsure how these effects vary over time. Co-author of the paper, Dr Mathew White, says this research has provided an important insight into the mechanism: “We needed to answer important questions about how the effects of green space vary over time. Do people experience a novelty effect, enjoying the new green area after the move, but with the novelty then wearing off? Or do they take time to realize the benefits of their new surroundings as they gradually get to know local parks? What we’ve found suggests that the mental health benefits of green space are not only immediate, but sustainable over long periods of time.”

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