The landscape of the world’s green spaces is ever-changing. But how big of an impact does it have on our health?
A study in the Psychological Science journal argues that people living in urban areas with more green space tend to report long-lasting positive impacts on their mental, physical and emotional health with fewer signs of depression and anxiety.
Whilst an entire scientific study into green spaces discovering that people find them nicer than concrete jungles might seem a bit like L. Frank Baum telling us “How very wet this water is,” dig a little deeper and the plethora of green space benefits start to become a little overwhelming. So just how important is green space to our overall wellbeing?
The Mersey Forest, a growing network of woodlands and green spaces across Cheshire and Merseyside in England, conducted a study which estimated that for every £1 invested into the Merseyside Objective One programme a return of £2.30 would increase local gross value added (GVA).
In America, The Trust for Land calculated that a green space network in Philadelphia of clean air, clean water, tourism, health, property value and community cohesion yielded £16 million to the city’s revenue and £11 million in municipal cost savings.
The Fife Coast and Countryside Trust in Scotland also estimate that the local economy receives a £24-million boost each year from its coastal path alone.
A report by the Forestry Commission suggested there was a large body of evidence supporting a view that investment in improving green space had a positive effect on property value by improving the aesthetic quality of the land and that having green space nearby resulted in average property premiums ranging from 2.6 to 11.3 per cent.
Quality of Life
Not coming as much of a shock this one, but over 95 per cent of people consider it fairly to very important to have green space near to where they live. A survey in England showed that 87 per cent of the population had used their local park in the preceding year whilst just 32 per cent had visited a local concert hall and 26 per cent a local gallery.
Well-designed green spaces encourage more social and physical activity which has a benefit on social cohesion and health, removing some of the burdens on health services. Natural playing environments at school also help to reduce bullying whilst simultaneously encouraging creativity and an increased feeling of self-worth.
Groundwork, the Conservation Volunteers, Keep Britain Tidy and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens have collectively said that some of the £5 billion given to local councils each year to combat obesity, smoking and binge drinking should be used to protect and improve public green spaces. The benefits would result in saving local councils valuable funds.
Plants reduce muscle tension related to stress, lower blood pressure, improve attention and reduce feelings of fear and anger or aggression. A Swiss study also found that mortality from circulatory diseases was lower in populations in the greenest areas.
Green gyms tend to have more psychological benefits than manufactured gyms, both physical and mental health are improved (and cheaper) jogging around a park than slamming your running shoes down on a treadmill conveyor belt.
Benefits for Children and the Elderly
A University of Illinois study said that girls exposed to green settings were better equipped to cope with peer pressure and performed better in academic challenges.
Researchers have found that Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) symptoms are reduced in children who have contact with nature, whilst activity levels of children increase when they live closer to parks and the elderly tend to live longer.
Green space improves air quality, coniferous trees capture particulates and toxic gases such as nitrogen dioxide which aids environmental sustainability. As few as 20 trees can offset the pollution equivalent of a car driven 60 miles in one day.
A Forestry Commission report also showed a clear benefit of green space projects involving tree planting for carbon sequestration and potential for trees to reduce energy use during the winter.
A Stockholm study revealed that urban forests with natural vegetation act as a refuge for threatened species of birds. Greenway corridors in urban areas also provide a habitat for a variety of fish, animals, insects and other organisms that link to suburban habitats.
Green spaces prevent soil erosion and absorb rainwater leading to improved drainage. Plants reduce the urban heat island effect whereby buildings absorb and emit solar radiation causing temperatures in cities to rise. Plants also reduce liquid waste and water consumption through low-flow plumbing and drought-resistant landscaping.
Community gardening results in a reduction in costs and pollution-related to packaging, cooling and transportation whilst eating local produce reduces asthma and lead poisoning in children.
According to research compiled by Project EverGreen, the lifestyle benefits of green spaces also includes greater privacy, tranquillity, lower rates of crime and safer neighbourhoods, enhanced self-esteem, cultural and heritage importance and increased community spirit.
So there you have it, a quite exhaustive list of benefits with probably a whole treasure trove of others outside the scope of this post just waiting to be discovered. Get out of the office and take a walk around the local park henceforth.