Protecting and utilising green spaces can help local authorities deliver other key priorities including promoting health behaviours and reducing health inequalities, as well as a number of environmental needs such as supporting action on climate change, improving air quality and reducing noise. On this page we detail how improving, expanding and promoting green spaces can maximise benefits for people and place, part of our Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health resources.
You can find 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.
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.
Reduce health inequalities
- Research has shown that socioeconomic inequalities in health are lower in greener neighbourhoods. Providing good quality greener environments in more deprived areas could therefore help reduce health inequalities.
- However, the most economically deprived areas have less available good quality public green space and the quality of green space tends to be poorer in poorer areas.
- Unequal provision of good quality green space means that those at greatest risk of poor physical and mental health may have the least opportunity to benefit from green space.
- Therefore careful planning and investment in green space could potentially contribute to reducing inequalities in health.
Contribute to keeping people healthy and help people recover more quickly.
- Green spaces can be used to contribute to all three levels of the prevention of agenda:
- Primary prevention – helping people to stay healthy – through the benefits of exercise, and improved mental health.
- Secondary prevention – helping to limit the impact of a condition (e.g. diabetes), by offering opportunities for improved activity levels.
- Tertiary prevention – help with speedier recovery from poor health and surgery, and can help reduce impact of someone living with a condition (e.g. cancer)
Help increase rates of physical activity
- Green spaces provide free at the point of use (or low cost) space for exercise and can also encourage active travel.
- Many people report that greenspaces are a preferred place to be physically active.
- Much of the health benefit from physical activity in green space can be gained from simply walking and does not have to be organised sport or more intensive exercise to be beneficial.
- Green spaces are an important setting for children’s physical activity, helping them develop the fine and gross motor skills they need for activity in later life.
Combat loneliness and improve social cohesion
- Green spaces can help combat loneliness through improving social contacts and giving people a sense of belonging in their local community.
- Green spaces provide a venue for a wide range of activities, such as walking groups, mass participation runs, gardening groups, and children’s activities.
- They provide volunteering opportunities for maintenance and involvement with community activities.
- Green spaces can help people establish themselves with new communities.
Support action on climate change
- Expanding and improving green space can provide opportunities for tree planting as well as increasing biodiversity. Planting of trees can help address some of the causes and impacts of climate change.
- Green spaces can also reduce the effect of urban heat islands.
- Green space can also provide cooler areas for people to visit in instances of extreme heat, especially if planted with trees that offer shade, and with water features.
- Green infrastructure can help to prevent floods from occurring and reduce the severity when they do.
Improve Air Quality
- Air pollution is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK.
- Air pollution can worsen health effects and exacerbate existing health conditions, affecting both physical and mental health, and lead to reduced life expectancy.
- Urban green and blue space can remove air pollutants from the environment.
- People’s exposure to air pollutants can be substantially reduced through appropriate vegetation, typically positioned in such a way as to separate people from the pollution.
- There is also a link between air quality and health inequality. Pollution levels are, on average, worse in areas of highest deprivation compared with areas of lowest deprivation. In 2016 the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report was based on the risks of air pollution and described worse impacts for deprived communities and places. Improving green space for the most deprived communities can thus tackle both negative effects of air quality and other impacts of heath inequality.
Tackle excessive noise
- Long term exposure to noise is linked to sleep disturbance, chronic annoyance and cardiovascular disease.
- Green space has a direct positive effect on health outcomes due to noise attenuation. Trees in particular can act as buffer to noise.
- People in urban areas value the ability to enjoy areas of quiet or relative quiet away from the sounds of urban life, which green spaces can provide.
- There is evidence to suggest that tranquil green space can compensate for the adverse health effects of noise in the residential environment.
Visit other pages of the Making the Most of Green Space for People’s Health guidance guidance
- Summary of Evidence
- Supporting Documents and Research Papers
- What local authorities can do to enhance the health benefits of green space
- Principles of successful interventions for improving health benefits of green space
- Case Studies
You can download a PDF of the Making the Most of Green Space for Peoples Health guidance from this link.