15th January 2018

Get back to nature for good mental health

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Mental health and wellbeing for those living and working in cities can be boosted with exposure to wildlife and green spaces, according to research.

A paper written by researchers from King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons and independent commissioning foundation Nomad Projects claims exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong can all enhance a person’s mental wellbeing.

A smartphone app which monitored exposure to nature and green spaces was developed by the researchers for the paper. Individuals taking part in the study were questioned about their current environment and mental wellbeing during a week-long trial.

The app was then able to monitor their precise location via GPS-based geo-tagging.

The researchers discovered there were “significant immediate” benefits associated with trees, birdsong and the sky, which lasted for several hours afterwards.

Dr Andrea Mechelli is a clinical psychologist and a neuroscientist at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

He researches how environmental stressors affect brain development to increase vulnerability to mental illness.

He said: “These findings suggest that short-term exposure has a measurable beneficial impact on mental wellbeing.

“The interaction of this effect with trait impulsivity is intriguing, as it suggests that nature could be especially beneficial to those individuals who are at risk of poor mental health.

“We hope this line of research will lead to the development of low-cost scalable interventions, aimed at promoting mental health in urban populations.”

Michael Smythe, an artist and researcher from Nomad Projects, said: “This study represents a successful example of how smartphone technologies can be employed as a tool for citizen science.

“It also demonstrates the value of academic and non-academic researchers coming together to carry out truly cross-disciplinary work with tangible real-world benefits.”

Last year the FT produced studies as part of its Britain’s Healthiest Workplace research, which showcased how several firms improved wellbeing for staff using green and outdoor space.