Green spaces make urban dwellers ‘less depressed’

Individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health

The Times, January 7, 2013

Hannah Devlin

City dwellers living near parks and green spaces suffer fewer bouts of anxiety and depression, a study has found.

The research, which took socioeconomic status and house prices into account, found that living in greener surroundings appeared to provide a long-term boost to mental wellbeing.

The University of Exeter researchers said that the finding had significant implications for urban planning. “We’ve shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health,” Ian Alcock, who led the research, said.

The study, published today in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, followed more than 1,000 people living in British cities for five years, for two years before moving house and three years after. Participants were asked to fill in annual questionnaires to monitor their mental health, including questions about their mood, confidence levels and ability to concentrate.

About half were moving to a greener urban location. The rest were moving to somewhere more built up with fewer parks. Gardens were included in the analysis, but ultimately did not make a big difference to the result, the scientists said. Those who moved to greener areas showed a significant improvement on mental wellbeing scores.

Mathew White, a co-author of the paper, said that previously some people had attributed the benefits of green space to the novelty of a new environment. “What we’ve found suggests that the mental health benefits of green space are not only immediate, but sustainable over long periods,” he said.

Those who moved to more built-up areas experienced a significant dip in wellbeing just before the move, but later recovered — something the researchers struggled to explain. There could be a “dread” factor, where the thought of moving somewhere more built-up feels unappealing, but actually living there is not that bad.

Previous research has linked proximity to green spaces to physical activity, physical fitness and reduced obesity.

The scientists said that their results, based on an urban population, could not be extrapolated to those living in the countryside. However, previous studies suggest that those living in rural areas may be happier, healthier and have a better quality of life.

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