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Science Says Green Space Can Enhance Mental Health

Southern Living logo Southern Living 8/21/2018 Perri Ormont Blumberg
an empty park bench next to a tree © Jordan Lye/Getty Images

Do you love starting or ending your day with a leisurely stroll in the park? Have you long been touting the benefits of hanging out on a park bench with a good read or good friend? Well, there's growing evidence on the impact green space can have on your mental health — particularly for those who reside in cities.

A study published in JAMA Open Network in July 2018 found that depression can be decreased in urban community-dwelling adults with access to green space — and in this case, researchers were looking at greened vacant lots, no fancy parks even required! For the study, researchers looked at 442 adults in Philadelphia near 110 vacant lots and tracked how they fared with self-reported measures.

Out of all the vacant lots, some lots were made green with new grass and a small number of trees, others had trash removed and received regular monthly maintenance, and a control group received no intervention. Scientists tracked the adults for 36 months total (18 months pre-intervention and 18 months post-intervention) and found that "self-reported feelings of depression and worthlessness were significantly decreased, and self-reported poor mental health was nonsignificantly reduced for those living near greened vacant land." Pretty impressive right?

"Spending time and living near green spaces have been associated with various improved mental health outcomes, including less depression, anxiety, and stress," the researchers state in the scientific paper's introduction, citing previous research on the benefits of green spaces. "Several studies have demonstrated a dose-response relationship between more time spent in green spaces and lower depression rates."

Of course, depression is a serious illness and not everyone will respond to green space in the same way. But for those city dwellers looking for a free, simple way to get a positive mental boost, it may be a few hundred yards away at your nearest local green space or park.

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