On top of our recent post about the benefits of green space for our immune systems, researchers have now been able to show with biological tests that living near green space is associated with lower stress levels. There’s been strong evidence for some time that access to green space can probably improve both physical and mental health. In particular, it can encourage people to build regular outdoor exercise into their daily lives, with the benefits that brings. But in the case of mental health, researchers have largely relied on people reporting how they feel to gauge whether there is a link between well-being and green space, and many studies have used artificial environments and conditions.
This latest research, published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, measured levels of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress, found in residents’ saliva. They found that levels of cortisol correlated with people’s own reports of feeling stressed, and with percentage of greenspace in the area.
The findings strengthen the evidence that green environments help people cope with stress and indicate this is not just the result of physical activity, (which also has stress-reducing benefits), but that regular visits or even just views of green space are enough.
So how important is it that green space includes woods or trees? Further research in Scotland, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, could help answer this, looking at the effectiveness of the Forestry Commission’s Woods in and Around Towns (WIAT) programme at improving psychological wellbeing in deprived communities. The project will work with six communities in Scotland’s central belt.
This all adds weight to the case for Boris to deliver on his pledges to plant more trees in London, and for others to do the same elsewhere.
Sian Atkinson, Conservation Communications & Evidence Adviser