Different types of exposure to natural environments are associated with different aspects of wellbeing

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Ben, Mat and colleagues have published a new analysis of Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey data in the journal Health & Place. The study examined whether different types of exposure to natural environments are associated with different aspects of wellbeing.

White, M. P., Pahl, S., Wheeler, B. W., Depledge, M. H., & Fleming, L. E. (2017). Natural environments and subjective wellbeing: Different types of exposure are associated with different aspects of wellbeing. Health & Place, 45, 77-84.

The research used a representative sample of the English urban and peri-urban population to explore the relationships between wellbeing and three types of exposure to natural environments:

  1. ‘neighbourhood nature’ (% local area categorised as green/blue space);
  2. ‘visit frequency’ (frequency of recreational visits over the previous 12 months); and
  3. ‘specific visits’ (whether individuals visited nature ‘yesterday’).

The results showed that after controlling for factors which are also known to affect wellbeing, such as area and individual level socio-demographics, frequency of visits was associated with eudaimonic wellbeing (how meaningful/worthwhile individuals think their behaviours or activities are) and a specific visit with positive experiential wellbeing (the emotions of pleasure (e.g. happiness) and pain (e.g. anxiety). People who visited nature regularly felt their lives were more worthwhile, and those who visited nature yesterday were happier.

The paper concludes:

The current work suggests that even visiting a natural environment as little as once a week may be at least as important for eudaimonic wellbeing as some socio-demographic factors. This supports both the general contention that the activities we choose to engage in may be just as important as our circumstances in life; and that supporting opportunities for urban populations to (re)connect with nature can play a key role in maintaining their wellbeing.

Funding: This research was carried out as part of the NIHR Health Protection Unit in Environmental Change and Health (see paper for full funding acknowledgement).

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