As a society, do we take our green spaces for granted? In an age of technological advancements and innovation, the premise of engaging with the great outdoors – whether solitarily or sociably – seems to be deserting the minds of many, with getting lost in the glow of a PC, TV or smartphone screen being the norm.
Yet the phenomena of immersing yourself amongst the trees, plants and grass shouldn’t be an experience that diminishes in value – it should be one that flourishes. Green space access plays a key role in helping boosting health and wellbeing, making us as communities feel better both physically and mentally.
A report into mental wellbeing undertaken by CBRE found that those working within an office that combines nature-inspired design and physical and mindfulness exercises saw huge increases in productivity (63.34 per cent) and creativity (137.50 per cent). Nature, mindfulness and exercise are the core elements of our green spaces – the proof is there that being in this sort of environment makes us function ‘better’.
From creating a social rendezvous point to helping future generations, Unsuburbia has looked at the main reasons why green space access is imperative to bolstering our health and wellbeing.
Feeling healthy, thinking healthy
The healing power of nature isn’t a myth. Scientific research has found that green space access is key to providing stress relief, increasing social interaction, encouraging physical exercise and helping soothe mental illness – all of which come at a benefit to our health and wellbeing.
A key aspect of maintaining high levels of health and wellbeing is reacting positively in social situations, something we can be achieved within a green space. Dr. Andrew Lee, a public health researcher at the University of Sheffield believes the paramount functionality of our parks is to make us happy, as these social spaces allow us to create networks, communicate and engage with others. He discusses that the impact of meeting with acquaintances in green spaces is a huge factor in giving a sense of wellbeing.
But if you think about it, which meeting place makes you and those around you feel better – a café, a bar, someone’s house, or an expansive green space?
Having ease of access to a green space has also been found to have a more profound impact on a person’s wellbeing than getting a promotion or wage rise at work – something that speaks volumes for the necessity of being in and around nature.
The ability to exercise in green spaces (coined as ‘green exercise’) has a positive impact on both a person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, according to research undertaken by the University of Essex.
The physical benefits are obvious. If you exercise, you’re going to get fitter and your physical capabilities will improve – that’s the whole reason of exercising. But it’s the mental impact of being active in a green space has that makes having easy access to one imperative.
Those who keep active in a natural environment at least once a week reduce the risk of mental health issues by half, whilst each extra weekly use (i.e. every extra day) further reduces the risk by six per cent. Partner these stats with the natural endorphins that are released when you exercise, and your mental wellbeing is getting some well-deserved positivity – all from having access to a green space.
Nature nurturing the next generation
Green spaces aren’t just for those looking to relax or exercise – they are utopia of “unrestrained imagination” for children. After all, the human evolution from child to adult can all be connected to the experiences of youthful interaction with green spaces, according to reports.
When discussing parks in Britain, Danish architect, town planner and writer Steen Eiler Rasmussen said that they offer children the chance to immerse themselves in the “raw sensation of the elements” describing the “ability to free the mind” as an invaluable experience.
These expansive open spaces encourage youngsters to get up and get out – they lean on the laurels of bygone eras, pre-internet and games consoles. It’s about being active, running about, chasing a ball to fill the void of boredom. The physical aspect of green space environments can do no wrong in promoting a positive health and wellbeing for children, as it allows them to exercise, explore and engage with nature.
But being immersed in these green spaces doesn’t just impact a child’s physical health and wellbeing. Green spaces within close proximity to schools have been proven to help aid the mental development of children, a study by Spanish researchers discovered.
With almost 2,600 students aged 7-10 taking part, the research found that having regular access to greenspaces improved students’ short-term memories by five per cent, whilst also giving a six per cent increase in ‘superior working memory’ based around updating the memory with differing information. These positive scores only showcase further the importance of green space access to the next generation’s mental health and wellbeing.
According to the study, being in polluted environments (such as city centres or built up areas) hampered children’s overall wellbeing and resulted in “detrimental impacts on their cognitive development”.
The green space crisis
Despite the health and wellbeing benefits, Britain’s parks are in the midst of a crisis. Due to cuts in maintenance budgets and funding, some councils being made to offload their responsibility of caring for and up-keeping local green spaces to private companies in an attempt to save on costs and are attempting to make the spaces pay for themselves through commercial events.
The consequences of these actions can be hugely damaging to our green spaces. Drew Bennellick, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s head of landscape and natural heritage, believes that this passing of responsibility is impacting the ecology, arboriculture, horticulture and landscape of these areas, a neglect which is leading to parks ending up with “bare soil and a few shrubs in ball shapes”.
But why should our green spaces be allowed to fall into ruin? Our lust for greenery, fresh air and the freedom that comes with our parks and outdoor spaces still exists. The need for these tranquil landscapes is a must for improving public health and wellbeing.
Our green space is precious for a reason. It gives us an escape from the bustle of cities or the worries of work, to let a mind rest at ease whilst we immerse ourselves into nature. This, in return, allows us to look after our health and wellbeing – it’s about nature nurturing us to feel better, inside and out.