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Green spaces are good for your health
Study finds green spaces may boost wellbeing for city dwellers
23rd April 2013 - Going green is good for you. New research, published in the journal Psychological Science, has found that people living in urban areas with more green space tend to report greater wellbeing than city dwellers who don’t have parks, gardens, or other green space nearby.
It doesn't prove that moving to a greener area will necessarily cause increased happiness, but it does fit with findings from experimental studies showing that short bouts of time in a green space can improve people’s mood and cognitive functioning.
The research has been led by Dr Mathew White at the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School.
Findings from previous studies have suggested a correlation between green space and wellbeing, but those studies were not able to rule out the possibility that people with higher levels of wellbeing simply move to greener areas. Dr White and colleagues were able to solve that problem by using longitudinal data (data gathered from the repeated observation of participants over time) from the British Household Panel Survey, a national survey that collected data annually from over 10,000 people between 1991 and 2008.
They found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.
Importantly, this association held even after the researchers accounted for changes over time in participants’ income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type.
The analysis made it possible to compare the beneficial effects of green space with other factors which influence wellbeing. In comparative terms, living in an area with higher levels of green space was associated with improvements in wellbeing roughly equal to a third of that gained from being married, or a tenth as large as being employed vs. unemployed.
Dr White has been surprised by the scale of the effects of living in a greener area in comparison to ‘big hitting’ life events, such as marriage or employment status. In a prepared statement he says: "These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what ‘bang’ they’ll get for their buck."
Urbanisation is considered a potential threat to mental health and well being. While the effect of green spaces for any one person might be small, the research shows that the potential positive effects of green space for society at large might be substantial.
Dr White concludes: "This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanisation and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing."