In today’s fast-paced world, our lives are filled with stress, deadlines, and digital distractions. The consequences of such a lifestyle can take a toll on our mental well-being. However, there is often a remedy right in our own neighborhoods: greenspace.
Neighborhood parks, green areas, and nature reserves have been shown to play a notable role in enhancing mental health and overall well-being. This concept is true for all nature spaces, not just those with green foliage. Proximity to ‘bluespace’, or landscapes containing water features such as lakes, rivers, or oceans, as well as snowy and desert landscapes have also been found to improve physical and mental health.
Some of the most well-documented benefits of neighborhood greenspace are reduced stress and anxiety. Immersing oneself in the forest, also known as shinrin-yoku or ‘forest-bathing’, has been shown to slow heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and reduce levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. But if you can’t fit a trip to the forest into your busy schedule, don’t fret. A recent study based in the United Kingdom showed that spending just two hours per week in greenspace can promote feelings of good health and well-being.
Access to neighborhood greenspace promotes physical activity which in turn triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosters. Green exercise, or the practice of exercising in natural spaces, has been linked to improvements in both physical and mental health. Lower levels of stress hormones and improved overall mental well-being are observed after exercising outdoors when compared to exercising indoors.
Spending time in neighborhood greenspace can improve brain function for people of all ages. Adult women living in close proximity to greenspace scored higher on tests of attention, thinking speed, and overall cognition. Access to greenspace has also been linked to improved attention in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and reduced risk of dementia in older adults.
Neighborhood greenspaces are also essential for bringing people together and fostering a sense of community. Researchers at Drexel University sought to study the effects of spending time in nature on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time of profound social isolation. The results showed that frequent visits to local greenspaces lessened feelings of loneliness and stress.
While mental health is a complex issue with many contributing factors, it is well established that spending time in nature promotes relaxation, physical activity, and social interaction. Each of these activities may reduce stress and enhance your mood. However, it is important to acknowledge that there are societal disparities in access to greenspace. In the United States, communities of color and low-income communities are three times more likely to live in nature-deprived neighborhoods than white communities. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “The Nature Gap”. Parks in these underserved communities are typically smaller, more crowded, and less green. Enriching neighborhoods with greenspace should be a priority in all communities.
Photo by Roger Hyam
Peer Editor: Aiman Abzhanova