Green spaces 'boost mental health'

Moving to a greener area leads to "significant and sustained" improvements in mental health, a new study has found.

Moving to a greener area leads to "significant and sustained" improvements in mental health, a new study has found.

Research showed that such a move instantly improved mental well-being, with the effects lasting for at least three years.

However, those who upped sticks to a more built-up environment suffered a decline in mental health.

Experts say the findings add to evidence which suggests that increasing green spaces in cities - such as parks and gardens - could deliver benefits to public health.

Dr Ian Alcock, from the University of Exeter Medical School, is lead author of the study, which is published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology.

"We've shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health," Dr Alcock said.

"These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long-term and sustained benefits for local communities."

The university study, which used data from the British Household Panel Survey, is one of the first to consider the effects of green space over time.

Researchers used data from more than 1,000 participants in the survey and focused on two groups of people - those who moved to greener urban areas and those who relocated to less green spaces.

Results showed that on average, movers to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health, which was sustained for at least three years.

People who relocated to more built-up areas suffered a drop in mental health. This fall occurred before their move and returned to normal after it was complete.

The researchers adjusted their data to account for other factors likely to affect mental health over time, such as income, employment, education and personality.

In 2012, the World Health Organisation cited depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Co-author Dr Mathew White said the new study builds on research which has found that natural environments can act as vital resources to improve health and well-being.

Previously, scientists have been unaware how the effects of such environments alter over time - though the new research gives an important insight into the mechanism, he said.

"We needed to answer important questions about how the effects of green space vary over time," Dr White said.

"Do people experience a novelty effect, enjoying the new green area after the move, but with the novelty then wearing off?

"Or do they take time to realise the benefits of their new surroundings as they gradually get to know local parks?

"What we've found suggests that the mental health benefits of green space are not only immediate, but sustainable over long periods of time."