Why green space is good for you, and the ways you can use it.
Green space, or the nature in the environment around us, is widely known to increase well-being.¹ However, it is less clear how green space does this. Whether you live in a bustling city or the remote countryside, there is some kind of flora around you. What kinds of green spaces are good for you? More basically, why are they good for you? Researchers continue to investigate these questions. But there are some clear factors that connect green space to well-being. By knowing these factors, we can maximize our use of green spaces, and improve our mental health.
Why Is Green Space Important?
The main theory on why nature is good for your brain is called “attention restoration theory.”² It suggests that your ability to concentrate is restored through exposure to nature.³ In our daily lives, we spend the majority of our time dealing with the same stress. This can be monotonous for our brains.² Dr. Karl Evans, who studies the connection between green space and well-being, points out the benefits of new stimuli. “Experiencing a diverse set of stimuli can distract your mind," he says. "[Green spaces] can help you mentally recuperate.”
Types of Green Spaces - Urban or Rural?
You may think that only pristine natural areas can deliver mental health benefits. But Evans and his former Ph.D. student Coldwell have found evidence to the contrary. “The beauty of this research is that it suggests that you don’t have to go to some fantastic, glorious part of the countryside to gain some benefit,” he says. In fact, urban green spaces appear to have their own well-being benefits separate from the benefits of the countryside.⁴ This appears to be especially true if the spaces are more biodiverse⁵, or if they are “green corridors.”⁶ But beyond these two types of green spaces, any type of nature is good for you. Even potted plants appear to improve well-being.⁷ The type of green space doesn’t seem to be particularly important; it’s more important to have nature in your life.
Type of Visit - Proximity or Frequency?
Of course, it is easier to visit green spaces when they are near you. Proximity can be a major motivational factor for visiting green spaces.⁸ But according to Evans, “even if you live in an area without that much green space, you can still benefit from visiting green space.” What’s more important is the frequency of use.⁴ Well-being is more directly related to use patterns of green space than proximity itself.⁹ Thus, it appears that active use of green space is important for well-being, despite the environment a person lives in. No matter where you live, make a habit of visiting green space. Your brain will thank you!
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, though, researchers are not entirely sure why green space appears to be good for mental health. Scientists have started to use different techniques to answer this question. Some have even used EEG to look at the direct effect of nature on the brain.¹⁰ But in reality, the reasoning for the connection between green space and well-being is less important than its existence. By visiting green spaces more often, no matter what kind, we can improve our lives.
1 Cleary, A., Fielding, K. S., Murray, Z., & Roiko, A. (2018). Predictors of nature connection among urban residents: assessing the role of childhood and adult nature experiences. Environment and Behavior, 001391651881143. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916518811431
2 Ohly, H., White, M. P., Wheeler, B. W., Bethel, A., Ukoumunne, O. C., Nikolaou, V., & Garside, R. (2016). Attention Restoration Theory: A systematic review of the attention restoration potential of exposure to natural environments. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part B, Critical Reviews, 19(7), 305–343. https://doi.org/10.1080/10937404.2016.1196155
3 Pasanen, T., Johnson, K., Lee, K., & Korpela, K. (2018). Can Nature Walks With Psychological Tasks Improve Mood, Self-Reported Restoration, and Sustained Attention? Results From Two Experimental Field Studies. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2057. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02057
4 Coldwell, D. F., & Evans, K. L. (2018). Visits to urban green-space and the countryside associate with different components of mental well-being and are better predictors than perceived or actual local urbanisation intensity. Landscape and Urban Planning, 175, 114–122. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.02.007
5 Wood, E., Harsant, A., Dallimer, M., Cronin de Chavez, A., McEachan, R. R. C., & Hassall, C. (2018). Not all green space is created equal: biodiversity predicts psychological restorative benefits from urban green space. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2320. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02320
6 Marselle, M. R., Irvine, K. N., & Warber, S. L. (2013). Walking for well-being: are group walks in certain types of natural environments better for well-being than group walks in urban environments? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(11), 5603–5628. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph10115603
7 Ma, B., Zhou, T., Lei, S., Wen, Y., & Htun, T. T. (2018). Effects of urban green spaces on residents’ well-being. Environment, Development and Sustainability, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-018-0161-8
8. Cheesbrough, A. E., Garvin, T., & Nykiforuk, C. I. J. (2019). Everyday wild: Urban natural areas, health, and well-being. Health & Place, 56, 43–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthplace.2019.01.005
9. Hadavi, S. (2017). Direct and Indirect Effects of the Physical Aspects of the Environment on Mental Well-Being. Environment and Behavior, 001391651667987. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916516679876
10. Olszewska-Guizzo, A., Sia, A., Fogel, A., & Ho, R. (2020). Can Exposure to Certain Urban Green Spaces Trigger Frontal Alpha Asymmetry in the Brain?-Preliminary Findings from a Passive Task EEG Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17020394