Young people * Healthy living * Weight loss * Mental wellbeing

Good health? It's a walk in the park

Good health? It s a walk in the park Study shows that environment affects wellbeing

Living in a leafy avenue close to a nice park may add thousands to the value of your home, but it should also have a positive effect on your health according to a new study.

It is not difficult to believe that having easy access to the great outdoors could lead to better mental health and reduced obesity, but scientists at the University of Illinois set out to find scientific proof of the benefits or otherwise of nature.

By looking at the results of many different studies the researchers found solid evidence that a greener environment is a definite plus when it comes to health.

Of course richer people tend to have better health and also live in nicer places, but careful analysis shows that even when adjusted for socio-economic factors the effect is still true.

Explaining the background to the study, lead scientist Frances "Ming" Kuo commented that "through the decades, parks advocates, landscape architects, and popular writers have consistently claimed that nature had healing powers, but until recently, their claims haven't undergone rigorous scientific assessment."

"But in the last decade or so, rigorous work on this question has become more of a rule than an exception" she added.

Her research found many different well-designed studies showing different beneficial effects of a greener environment, such as:

  • stronger neighbourhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others;
  • lower rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime;
  • better cognitive functioning, more self-discipline and impulse control, and greater mental health overall;

Access to green space has also been shown to enhance recovery from surgery, support higher levels of physical activity, improve immune system functioning, help diabetics achieve healthier blood glucose levels and even aid independent living skills among older adults.

By contrast those who live in places with less green space have higher rates of childhood obesity and cardiovascular diseases and higher rates of mortality in younger and older adults. They also experience exacerbated attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms, higher rates of anxiety disorders, and higher rates of clinical depression.

Commenting on her study, Kuo said that "while it is true that richer people tend to have both greater access to nature and better physical health outcomes, the comparisons here show that even among people of the same socio-economic status, those who have greater access to nature, have better physical health outcomes. Rarely do the scientific findings on any question align so clearly."

The study is published in a research series for the USA National Recreation and Park Association.

This article was published on Wed 27 April 2011



Image © Alexander Reitter - Fotolia.com


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