Spending time in rural and coastal locations is more psychologically beneficial to individuals than time spent in urban green spaces, a new study in the journal Environment & Behavior reports.
Researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Exeter, University of Plymouth and Plymouth Marine Laboratory worked with Natural England to examine the experiences of over 4,500 people when spending time in nature and investigated for the first time how different environmental settings and their quality impacted on psychological wellbeing.
Asking participants to describe their visit and to evaluate their overall encounter, researchers discovered that those who visited rural and coastal locations reported greater psychological contentment than those who spent time in urban green spaces, such as city gardens and parks. It was also found that visits to natural areas of protected or designated status (i.e. national parks), also resulted in improved mental wellbeing.
Researchers found these visits to nature (especially those to protected sites and to coastal and rural green settings) were associated with both greater feelings of relaxation and refreshment but also stronger emotional connections to the natural world. Interestingly it was discovered that visits longer than 30 minutes were associated with a better connection and subsequently had greater psychological benefits.
“These findings are important as they not only help unpick the mechanisms behind these psychological benefits [of being in nature], but they can also help to prioritise the protection of these environments and emphasise why accessibility to nature is so important.”
Professor Mel Austen, Head of the Sea and Society Science Area at Plymouth Marine Laboratory said: “It was surprising to learn that the extent of protection of marine environments also affects the extent of mental health benefits that people gain from their interactions with the sea.
“People’s health is likely to become an increasingly important aspect to consider as we manage our coasts and waters for the benefit of all users.”
The positive benefits of interaction with nature are well documented with numerous studies reporting a reduction of stress levels in participants and an increase in overall wellbeing in those spending time in nature. This is the first study of its kind which shows that different types of natural environments have more of an impact on psychological wellbeing than others.
Professor Melanie Austen: www.pml.ac.uk/People/Heads_of_Science/Professor_Melanie_Austen
Leads a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary research projects from the socio-economics of marine ecosystems and their services through to environment and human health, and marine biodiscovery.
Dr Kayleigh Wyles: www.surrey.ac.uk/psychology/people/kayleigh_wyles
Integrates research on the marine environment in both current research projects and in teaching.