The availability of urban green and open spaces is associated with significantly improved mental and physical health among older people. This makes it clear that the built environment in which people live has a significant impact on mental and general health.
A new study by experts at Washington State University (WSU) examined the relationship between access to green and open spaces and overall health and mental health among older adults in an urban setting. The results are published in the specialist journal “Health & Place”.
Data from 42,000 people evaluated
The current study is one of the first studies to examine the effects of the availability of green spaces on the health of older people, who have been proven to be particularly susceptible to psychological problems such as depression and a decline in cognitive abilities or dementia, the researchers explain.
For the study, the team used data from a health survey with more than 42,000 participants aged 65 and over who lived in urban areas of Washington state from 2011 to 2019.
What effect do urban green spaces have?
By analyzing the participants’ general and mental health in relation to various metrics that quantified access to urban green and open spaces (forests, parks, lakes and rivers), the researchers attempted to determine possible connections.
Both the distance to the green and open spaces as well as their percentage of the total area were taken into account.
According to the experts, almost two percent of the participants showed signs of serious psychological stress and a total of 19 percent reported fair or poor general health in the survey.
More nature, fewer psychological problems
The study showed that it is enough if there is ten percent more forest area where you live to significantly reduce the risk of serious psychological problems among the participants.
The researchers defined serious psychological problems as complaints that require treatment and affect social life or work.
Improved overall health
In addition, an increase in green spaces, trees, bodies of water or the length of hiking trails by just ten percent reduced the risk that older people would rate their general health as poor or fair, the experts added.
“Our results suggest that the loss of our urban green and open spaces due to rapid urbanization could not only have an impact on the environment, but also on public health,” summarizes study author Adithya Vegaraju in a press release.
Study author Solmaz Amiri adds that further research is now needed to understand the mechanisms through which spending time in green and open spaces can lead to better mental and general health.
The doctor adds that the possible connection between spending time in nature and cognitive decline, which can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s or dementia, should also be analyzed. (as)