Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere & Forest (LEAF) Centre

Health & Wellbeing

Access to green space improves our mental wellbeing (White et al., 2013), potentially reducing the need to treat for anxiety and mental health conditions (Nutsford et al., 2013). Depressive disorders are now the foremost cause of disability in middle- and high-income countries (WHO, 2008) and can be precursors for chronic physical health problems.

Spending time in green spaces has been shown to produce levels and patterns of chemicals in the brain associated with low stress (Ward Thompson et al., 2012) and positive impacts on blood pressure (Hartig et al., 2003). Positive links have also been demonstrated between how well people perform at attention-demanding tasks and time spent, either beforehand or during, in green space (Hartig et al., 1991, 2003; Tennessen & Cimprich, 1995; Roe & Aspinall, 2011).

Across Europe, approximately 1 in every 15 deaths is associated with a lack of physical activity (Ekelund et al., 2015). In the UK, only one third of the population achieves the recommended level of exercise (DoH, 2011) and the impact of this on our health is estimated to have a direct economic cost of £1 billion per year (Scarborough et al., 2011).

Green areas encourage physical activity by providing a pleasant environment in which to exercise (Coombes et al., 2010); linear woodland trails encourage walking and cycling, whilst large sport and community parks encourage more formal physical activity (Brown et al., 2014).

Where green space is available, the socioeconomic position of the local population does not affect how frequently it is used (Grahn & Stigsdotter, 2003), implying that where accessible green space is provided it will be used and may help to reduce socioeconomic health inequalities (Mitchell & Popham, 2008; Mitchell et al., 2015).

Urban green spaces provide pleasant areas to relax and socialise, promoting greater levels of social activity and stronger neighbourhood relationships (Sullivan et al., 2004). This can be particularly important in maintaining a high quality of life for elderly people (Kweon et al., 1998; Sugiyama & Ward Thompson, 2007; Sugiyama et al., 2009).

Green space should be accessible to as many people as possible – people are more likely to visit green space if they do not have to travel far to reach it, and the most frequent visitors report the greatest benefits to their mental wellbeing (Dallimer et al., 2014).