A new study has found that people who commute through natural environments report better mental health.
The study was based on questionnaires answered by 3,599 participants from four European cities, according to researchers with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain.
The new study was conducted within the Positive Health Effects of the Natural Outdoor Environment in Typical Populations in Different Regions in Europe project (PHENOTYPE).
The 3,599 participants from Barcelona, Spain, Doetinchem in the Netherlands, Kaunas, Lithuania, and Stoke-on-Trent in the UK, answered a questionnaire about their commuting habits and their mental health.
According to the statistical analysis, respondents who commute through natural environments on a daily basis had, on average, a 2.74 point higher mental health score compared to those who commuted through natural environments less frequently.
This association was even stronger among people who reported active commuting, such as walking or cycling, the researchers noted.
Natural environments were defined as all public and private outdoor spaces that contain green or blue natural elements, such as trees, forests, city parks, and natural parks and reserves, as well as all types of bodies of water.
“From previous experimental studies we knew that physical activity in natural environments can reduce stress, improve mood and mental restoration when compared to the equivalent activity in urban environments,” said Wilma Zijlema, Ph.D., an ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.
“Although this study is the first of its kind to our knowledge and more research will be needed, our data show that commuting through these natural spaces alone may also have a positive effect on mental health.”
“Mental health and physical inactivity are two of the main public health problems associated with life in urban environments,” added Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Ph.D., coordinator of the ISGlobal Initiative of Urban Planning, Environment and Health and last author of the study. “Urban design could be a powerful tool to confront these challenges and create healthier cities. One way of doing so would be investing in natural commuting routes for cycling and walking.”
The study was published in Environment International.
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