Green spaces and health

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Green spaces are defined as “open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation” and include, for example, parks, forests, playing fields and river corridors. The idea that these environments are good for your physical and mental health has been around for a long time but it has recently received a lot of attention from environmental, medical and social science. It is part of the movement in science which is asking how different things in our lives and environments can help keep us healthy, rather than always focusing on the things which make us ill. Several studies have suggested that being in green spaces (or even just seeing them) can help people recover from stress and mental fatigue, can reduce blood pressure and may even accelerate healing after surgery.

The research that we do is focused on the potential for green spaces to help promote and maintain good population health. Our work has, for example, shown that those who live in neighbourhoods which have a lot of green space are more likely to have better health and to have lower risk of dying from heart or lung disease. We have also shown that the health gap between richer and poorer people may be smaller in neighbourhoods that have a lot of green space.

Our current and future work on green spaces asks whether the apparent health benefits of green space are the same for everyone regardless of age, sex and background, if they are the same across different countries, how these effects come about and whether creating or promoting access to green spaces can be used as a tool to improve public health and reduce health inequalities.

As part of our work on green space and health, we have created estimates of how much green space there is in all neighbourhoods (defined as CAS wards) in the UK. These estimates, and information about them, are available from here.

To date, our work in this area has been supported by The ESRC, The Scottish Government, The Forestry Commission, The Glasgow Centre for Population Health, the EU COST action programme and NPRI.

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