Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health: Summary of Evidence

“Spending time in the natural environment – as a resident or a visitor – improves our mental health and feelings of wellbeing. It can reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can help boost immune systems, encourage physical activity and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as asthma. It can combat loneliness and bind communities together.”

UK GOVERNMENT, 25 YEAR PLAN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

making-the-most-of-green-space-for-peoples-healthThere is substantial evidence of a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes linked to living in greener communities and having greater exposure to green space. On this page you will find a summary of findings that are reasonably well established in the scientific literature to support our Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health guidance.

You can find further primary evidence to support the statements on this page on the Making the Most of Green Spaces for People’s Health: Supporting Documents and Research papers page. You can download a PDF of the whole Making the Most of Green Space for Peoples Health guidance from this link.

There are some limitations of the evidence base, such as some poor quality studies, and we don’t know much about how the qualities and characteristics of green spaces affect health impacts. The findings are also quite mixed, for example some studies on living close to green space and physical activity have found no relationship. These limitations are well discussed in the literature and in reviews of the evidence. 

What to we mean by “Green Space”? In these documents we intend it to include the full diversity of green and blue spaces from parks and gardens to beaches to countryside footpaths.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF GREEN SPACE

There is a relatively robust and extensive body of evidence regarding the relationships between exposure to, use of, and perceptions of green space and a number of mental and physical health outcomes. These include reductions in psychological stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression, and promotion of better subjective wellbeing, as well as a variety of improved physical health factors.

Mental health benefits of greenspace
  • The evidence suggests that greater exposure to greenspace enhances quality of life for children and adults
  • Children and young people living in greener environments tend to be found to have better mental wellbeing outcomes.
  • Studies have found links between experiencing nature in urban environments and positive emotions
  • Greener living environments are linked to reduced levels of depression, anxiety and fatigue
Physical health benefits of greenspace
  • Studies have found that a greater percentage of green space around a residence is associated with reduced mortality. 
  • Several studies have found self-related health tends to be higher in those with greater exposure to natural environments, especially if the environment is of good quality.
  • Greener living environments are linked to less physiological stress symptoms, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.
  • Higher levels of green space around the home are associated with more favourable birth weight, as well as positive association with cognitive development indicators in childhood.

HOW DOES GREEN SPACE PROMOTE HEALTH?

There are a variety of ways that greenspace can promote positive health and wellbeing outcomes, including:

  1. Physical activity – visits to green space are often associated with higher levels of physical activity, often through walking.  Physical activity is one of the cheapest and most effective forms of health improvement and preventing disease.   
  2. Community and social cohesion – green spaces, especially in urban settings, can help people feel connected to their communities, and help minority groups become better integrated and identify with their communities. Green spaces can reduce isolation and loneliness by providing the opportunity to participate in shared social activities.
  3. Rest and relaxation – spending time in or near green spaces can help reduce stress and anxiety. 
  4. Reduced environmental hazards – Green spaces can help to reduce levels of air pollution, and can also help to mitigate the urban heat island effect.

OTHER FACTORS THAT INFLUENCE THE HEALTH IMPACT OF GREEN SPACE

There are a wide range of factors that influence how green space might impact health and wellbeing for a community. As mentioned above, we still do not thoroughly understand this complex set of relationships, but things to consider could include:

  • Different types of environment might be important for different people. 
  • Environmental ‘quality’ is important, but multidimensional. The natural qualities of places might influence how they are used and valued for health and wellbeing, including factors such as vegetation, wildlife, topography, water. 
  • Facilities and amenities that make places attractive to people are also important, for example presence of benches or other places to sit, signs and interpretation materials, access to refreshments, toilets, parking, paths and other facilities.
  • Perceptions matter – how safe does the place feel? Is it a place that people perceive as somewhere they belong? Are there other people there that they do or don’t want to encounter?
  • These factors may all be differently important for different people – for example what is restorative for a parent with young children may be different for a group of teenagers or an older couple.
  • There may also be differences between people who have different experiences, such as those that have grown up in nature versus those more used to built environments?

RISKS OF GREEN SPACE TO HEALTH

In addition to human health benefits, there are some risks to human health to be considered when seeking to “green” urban areas or change existing management practices. 

  • One potential risk of increased/changed planting in towns and cities is the possibility of increased allergenic pollen prevalence. Although not all pollen is allergenic, the risk of adverse reactions is considered greater in urban areas due to compounding urban heat island effects and air pollution.
  • Another risk is a boost in the number of ‘pest’ species, such as ticks. Information and education can help mitigate these risks.
  • One other issue is the potential for ‘green gentrification’, where environmental improvement may lead to adverse social impacts such as un-affordable housing cost increases.

These risks should not be overstated, but it is worth considering the potential for unintended consequences.


Visit other pages of the Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health guidance guidance

You can download a PDF of the whole Making the Most of Green Space for Peoples Health guidance from this link.

 

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