Green spaces boosts wellbeing of urban dwellers - study

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Parks, gardens and green space in urban areas can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people living there, says a University of Exeter study.

Using data from 5,000 UK households over 17 years, researchers found that living in a greener area had a significant positive effect.

The findings could help to inform urban planners and have an impact on society at large, they said.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

The research team examined data from a national survey that followed more than 5,000 UK households and 10,000 adults between 1991 and 2008 as they moved house around the country.

They asked participants to report on their own psychological health during that time to estimate the "green space effect".

Dr Mathew White and colleagues at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.

This was true even after the researchers accounted for changes over time in participants' income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type.

Benefits for society

Dr White compared the scale of the effects of living in a greener area to "big-hitting" life events such as marriage.

"We've found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on wellbeing, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married."

The effect was also found to be equivalent to a tenth of the impact of being employed, as opposed to unemployed.

Even when stacked up against other factors that contribute to life satisfaction, living in a greener area had a significant effect, the study said.

Start Quote

For people living busy lifestyles in densely populated areas, being able to get outdoors and access green space is a great way to escape the stresses of day-to-day life”

End Quote Beth Murphy Mind

"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," said Dr White.

While the effect for an individual might be small, he pointed out that the potential positive effects of green space for society at large might be substantial.

"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."

Beth Murphy, information manager at the mental health charity Mind, said: "For people living busy lifestyles in densely populated areas, being able to get outdoors and access green space is a great way to escape the stresses of day-to-day life.

"Our research has shown that 94% of people who took part in outdoors 'green exercise' said it benefited their mental health and can have huge impacts on physical health.

"We believe this is food for thought for any policymaker involved in urban planning, or local authority developing its public health strategy."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I work with people with long term mental health issues,our project is based in a beautiful bio-dynamic garden. The garden alone, works wonders be it spring, summer, autumn or winter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Past City planners knew this, which is why large cities and towns in the UK have parks/green spaces. Nevertheless, we seem to have forgotten, since they are now the lowest priority for expenditure and care by Councils. Trees are abused and neglected and have a life a third of their natural lifespan and sensible tree planting policies are rare. A useful study to be waved under Council's noses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    What could be more enjoyable than to sit in a tree lined park that has been created in the middle of a busy, bustling, noisy, smelly city, taking some time to relax, listen to the birdsong and simply enjoy the delicious experience of simply being. If that sounds like a waste of time to some then you have my deepest sympathy. We're a long time dead, green spaces good? Of course they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    The grass is green and the sky is blue.

    What this story highlights is the fact that despite green areas making lives better for normal people, we are going to be betrayed by our councils who allow these parks to be built on because it’s more profit for developers. Don’t make a mistake in thinking the enjoyment of the masses is more important than more money for the few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Yes, green spaces are good for you.

    Just a shame that without a specific economic value that when a house wants to be built that the green spaces go all to quickly.

    The number of mature trees I see cut down by councils is disheartening


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