PUBLIC HEALTH
November 18, 2009

Parks Improve Overall Health

Living near green space seems to make people healthier, both mentally and physically. Time outdoors reduced reports of a variety of illnesses.

People who live near green space (gardens, parks, woods) feel better about their mental and physical health than those who are green−deprived. A recent study has found they also reported fewer medical and psychological problems. But what do actual doctors' diagnoses reveal about the effect of green space on a person's health? A study, recently published in the October 18th issue of the British Medical Journal, looked at information from 96 medical practices over a 12−month period to see what the relationship was between a variety of medical illnesses and a patient's access to green space. The researchers looked at the number of diagnoses of various illnesses made by physicians and compared this to the availability and size of green spaces within 1km (0.6 miles) and 3 km (1.8 miles) of the patients' homes.

This positive effect of green space was strongest for the people who spent more time close to home such as patients with lower income and education and for children.

People who had 10% more than the average green space within 1 km of their home, were less likely to have conditions such as heart disease, muscle and bone problems, lung and breathing problems, headaches and dizziness, digestive problems and others. Those who had 10% greater green space than the average within 3 km, showed less anxiety and depression and less of some digestive disorders. This positive effect of green space was strongest for the people who spent more time close to home such as patients with lower income and education and for children. The researchers were surprised to find that the middle–aged population (ages 46−65) were more strongly affected than the elderly, who are often less mobile. They also found that the effect was stronger in slightly urban areas than strongly urban areas and they suggested this was perhaps because in cities, green spaces such as parks are often dangerous, crime−prone areas.

Green space close to home had more impact than green space farther away. The positive impact of having nearby green space on patients' perceptions of health, as well as the decrease in the prevalence of several common diagnoses suggest that providing green space is a public health measure that can improve the health of the general public.

Previous studies have reported less stress and lower obesity in patients with access to green areas. It has also been shown that being exposed to nature positively impacts mood, concentration, and self−discipline. The authors suggest that these findings be taken into account in city planning and urban development and that providing adequate green space be considered a type of preventative medicine. Individuals may want to put green space on the list of important considerations when choosing a new neighborhood.

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