Nature and health: does green space promote well-being?

NEWS | 2012-06-02

Exercise confers health benefits, but is being out and about in the natural environment especially health-enhancing? This question has recently been addressed by British researchers.

Spending time in natural surroundings often gives us a sense of well-being, but there are fairly few scientific studies exploring the importance of green space as such for our health. Photo: Claes Bernes.

Four scientists at the Centre for Evidence-Based Conservation in Bangor, Wales, have examined what the scientific literature has to say about the importance of green space for health. The studies included in the review have compared the effects of activities in the natural environment (defined as ‘any environment with green space’) with those of the same activities either indoors or in an outdoor, built environment. The term ‘natural environment’ included parks, university campuses, woodland and forests, nature reserves, recreation areas and gardens. The categories of activity studied included walking, running, gardening and resting.In their searches for academic literature with a potential bearing on the subject, the research group found more than 20,000 articles. Only 28 studies from 27 articles, however, proved to contain data of direct relevance to the review.

According to the scientists’ summary of these data, there is some evidence that the natural environment exerts a positive effect on ‘mental well-being’, in terms of certain self-reported feelings or moods. For example, ‘anger/aggression’, ‘fatigue/tiredness’ and ‘sadness/depression’ are often abated. In terms of perceived ‘attention/concentration’, energy, ‘tranquillity/calmness’ and ‘stress/anxiety’, the outcomes were more mixed.

The physiological parameters measured (blood pressure, stress-related hormones and pulse) were not discernibly affected by whether the activity took place in a ‘natural environment’. However, the researchers point out that the scope for drawing reliable conclusions is limited, given that so few studies could be included.