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Green space influences mental wellbeing

Words: Laura Edgar
Public parks / Shutterstock_397473892

Research has suggested that living within 300m of urban green space is associated with greater happiness, a sense of worth and life satisfaction.

This could be parks, nature reserves or play areas.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick, Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield, the study applies new geospatial research techniques to create an accurate measure of the relationship between green space and three different aspects of mental wellbeing.

It combines survey responses from 25,518 participants in the UK Government’s annual population survey (APS) with data on the shape, size and location of London’s 20,000 public green spaces. The researchers explained that they modelled green space distribution in relation to where each of the survey participants lived and considered how that influenced their mental wellbeing.

Published in Applied Geography’s August issue, it was found that green space within 300m of home had the greatest influence on mental wellbeing.

It also found:

  • There is a “very strong” relationship between the amount of green space around a person’s home and their feelings of life satisfaction, happiness and self-worth.
  • An increase of one hectare – about the size of an international Rugby Union pitch – within 300m of residents was associated with an increase of 8 percentage points in life satisfaction, 7 in worth and 5 in happiness.
  • Green space was less important for mental wellbeing in central London and east London.

Dr Victoria Houlden, Professor João Porto de Albuquerque, Professor Scott Weich and Professor Stephen Jarvis worked together on the research.

Houlden, from Newcastle University, said: “We believe this it is the first study to demonstrate how urban green space may improve a broader definition of mental wellbeing. A lot of research focuses on poor mental health, or single aspects of wellbeing like life satisfaction. What makes our work different is the way we consider multi-dimensional mental wellbeing, in terms of happiness, life satisfaction and worth.

“While government guidelines recommend minimum amounts of green space in residential developments, our study was able to establish more specifically where green space may be most valuable.”

Professor João Porto de Albuquerque, director of the University of Warwick’s Institute of Global Sustainable Development, added:

“As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, members states of the United Nations committed to provide every access to green and public spaces for every citizen by 2030, which is usually measured based on the area of cities that is open space for public use.

"However, our study makes clear that it is not only the area of public green space in the whole city that matters when it comes to maximising benefits for mental wellbeing. We provide evidence that the proximity of green space to an individual’s home is important for detecting significant associations with improved mental wellbeing, and that the strength of this association may vary in different areas of the city.

“This result has important implications for urban planning and decision-making related to how we measure access to urban green spaces and how to design more sustainable and liveable cities.”

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