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Green Spaces May Improve City Wellbeing

Update Date: Apr 22, 2013 10:09 AM EDT

Green spaces like parks, gardens and lawns can improve the wellbeing and quality of life of city dwellers, according to a new study.

British researchers at the University of Exeter looked at data from 5,000 UK households over 17 years and found that people living in urban areas with more green space tend to report greater wellbeing that those who don't live near parks, gardens or other green space.

Researchers found that people reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas, according to the study published in the journal Psychological Science.

More importantly, researchers found that the link between green spaces and positive mental wellbeing held true even after accounting for changes over time in participants' income, employment, marital status, physical health and housing type.

After comparing the scale of the effects of living in a greener area to "big-hitting" life events such as marriage, researchers found that living in an urban area with relatively high levels of green space has a positive impact that is "roughly equal to a third of the impact of being married," lead researcher Dr. Mathew White, of the University of Exeter Medical School's European Center for Environment & Human Health, said in a news release.

Researchers found that the effect of green spaces is also equivalent to a tenth of the positive impact of being employed, as opposed to unemployed.

The study found that even when stacked up against other factors that contribute to life satisfaction, living in a greener area had a significant effect.

"These kinds of comparisons are important for policymakers when trying to decide how to invest scarce public resources, such as for park development or upkeep, and figuring out what 'bang' they'll get for their buck" White explained.

While the latest study does not prove that moving to a greener area will necessarily lead to increased happiness, it does support previous findings that show short bouts of time in a green space can improve mood and cognitive functioning.

White and his team believe the latest findings could have an impact on society at large.

"This research could be important for psychologists, public health officials and urban planners who are interested in learning about the effects that urbanization and city planning can have on population health and wellbeing," White concludes.

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