AFP – Science has repeatedly highlighted the need to increase the green cover of cities to preserve the health of the population, and even reduce heatwave-related mortality.
But improving access to green spaces could also reduce socio-economic inequalities in mental health, and promote the well-being of people living in the most disadvantaged areas, a new study revealed.
The effect of nature on physical and mental health has been the subject of many scientific studies over the last few years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has shown just how important it is to live close to parks, wooded areas and other green spaces, in order to benefit from a breath of fresh air that is essential to both body and mind.
Recent studies have shown that regular contact with nature can reduce the need for medication, slow cell ageing, improve schoolchildren’s behaviour and keep people in good physical health.
In partnership with an international team, researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of Liverpool, go one step further, reporting that improving the quantity and accessibility of green spaces could also reduce socioeconomic inequalities in mental health.
Published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, their work highlights the need to invest in green spaces, such as parks, fields and wooded areas, to enable the whole population to enjoy their mental health benefits.
This investment would be all the more beneficial for people living in the most disadvantaged areas.
BENEFITS FOR ALL
“While the effects of green spaces on mental health have been well documented, using the medical records of an entire adult population over such a length of time gives a new level of understanding to this work,” reads a news release accompanying the research.
More than two million adults living in Wales were included in this study, which examined and compared a number of factors, including proximity to green spaces, access to green and blue spaces, and the incidence of certain mental health disorders, over a 10-year period.
Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Liverpool Sarah Rodgers said: “Our study has shown that green and blue spaces are likely to protect people from needing to see their general practitioner for anxiety or depression, and in places where people have fewer resources overall, living near these spaces seems to have a bigger protective effect than for people living in areas with more resources.”
Among the study’s key findings is the importance of living close to green or blue spaces, such as a lake, marina or the sea, in reducing the risk of anxiety and depression.
In detail, the researchers report that every additional 360 metres away from the nearest green or blue space is associated with a higher risk of anxiety and depression.
This finding prompts the study authors to emphasise the need to invest in improving these havens of nature to promote the well-being of the entire population, and particularly of people living in lower-income areas.
MORE EXTENSIVE RESEARCH
What now remains to be determined is the factor or factors determining why people living in the most disadvantaged areas and those living in high-income areas are affected differently by access and exposure to green and blue spaces. This should lead to more in-depth research on the subject.
“We need to ensure that those who are in the most need, and will benefit the most, have access to these free green and blue spaces, helping to protect the health of our population,” the study authors said.
Commenting on the study, Professor of Health and Environment at the University of Glasgow Richard Mitchell said: “This brilliant study gives us (two) reasons to be cheerful.
First, it confirms that natural environments around us really do benefit our mental health.
Second, the benefits seem strongest for those most at risk, so there’s huge potential for tackling the gulf in health between richer and poorer people.”