We need more green spaces in town and cities – the myriad of advantages they provide is simply undeniable. Now, a team of researchers has shown that they also lead to significant and sustained improvements in mental health.

Green space in Chicago.

Analyzing a consistent amount of data over a five year period, they found that moving in a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but the effects are also sustainable – continuing long after they have moved. The findings add even more evidence that suggests increasing green spaces in cities could deliver major health benefits.

Scientists from the University of Exeter Medical School looked at data from over 1,000 participants, focusing on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who moved to less greener areas. They found that, on average, those who moved to greener areas experienced a significant, immediate improve in mental health, an improvement that was sustained for at least 3 years after the move, and showed no sign of dwindling. The study also showed that moving to a less greener area had the opposite effect – it tended to make people suffer a drop in their overall mood and mental health, but the drop wasn’t sustainable – it ended not long after the move.

The type of the green space didn’t appear to be relevant: park, garden, orchard, whatever – they all seemed to have pretty much the same effect.

The authors also adjusted the study to remove and/or compensate for other factors, such as income, employment and education – as well as factors related to personality. Lead researcher, Dr Ian Alcock, believes the study’s results could have important implications:

“We’ve shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health. These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities.”

In 2012, the World Health Organisation cited depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, and this study showed that a relatively simple change in lifestyle could go a long way towards fighting it. Co-author of the paper, Dr Mathew White, says this research highlighted a significant part of depression’s mechanism:

“We needed to answer important questions about how the effects of green space vary over time. Do people experience a novelty effect, enjoying the new green area after the move, but with the novelty then wearing off? Or do they take time to realise the benefits of their new surroundings as they gradually get to know local parks? What we’ve found suggests that the mental health benefits of green space are not only immediate, but sustainable over long periods of time.”

Via University of Exeter.

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