Researchers used data taken from 5,000 UK households over a period of 17 years to see what effect living in a greener area had on people’s happiness levels.
Dr Matthew White and his team at the European Centre for the Environment and Human Health found that people who lived in greener areas reported less mental distress and greater life satisfaction than those living in densely concrete areas. The team dubbed this ‘the green space effect’.
The researchers tracked extraneous variables such as income, employment, physical health, marital status and housing type and found that, regardless of these things, green space was still one of the most significant determining factors when it came to emotional well-being.
“We’ve found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space can have a significantly positive impact on well-being, roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married,” Dr White explained.
The impact of green space on mental well-being was found to be equivalent to a tenth of the effect of being employed as opposed to unemployed.
It is hoped that these findings will benefit both urban planners and government policy makers in the future. Urban planners will be able to incorporate parks, woods and gardens into their plans, while policy makers will be able to justify the cost of these developments by taking the well-being of society (and the effect this has on production and the wider economy) into account.
Beth Murphy, who works as information manager at mental health charity Mind, agrees it is extremely important that urban dwellers have access to green space where they can escape the often overwhelming stimulation of traffic, noise, people, shops and advertising in the city.
She said Mind research shows that 94% of people who do exercise outdoors in green areas notice psychological health benefits.
If local authorities want to develop public health strategies then incorporating ‘green space’ into redevelopments could be an integral part of this.
Find out more about how to combat mental ill health by visiting our Types of Distress page.
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