Global research showing the strong connection between human health and contact with nature is the focus of a new report just released by Parks Victoria and Deakin University.
The report and review of research was initiated and commissioned by Parks Victoria in Australia and undertaken by Deakin University in Melbourne. More than 650 research documents published since 2008 from across the globe were reviewed to update evidence collated in 2002 and 2008.
Research continues to show that contact with nature can help reduce the effects of many physical, social and mental health and wellbeing challenges facing millions of people worldwide.
The ability to highlight the breadth of evidence that demonstrates these strong links between human health and nature is critical for many reasons. This includes building the link between the health and environment sectors and promoting the importance of caring for and investing in nature.
The preliminary findings of the report were launched during the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, as part of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Improving Health and Wellbeing stream of the Congress. Now the final report has been released and we encourage you to share it widely.
The executive summary and key findings of the report are as follows:
Nature’s goods and services are the ultimate foundations of life and health. Parks offer an important means for people to access the health benefits of nature.
This report reviews the post-2008 literature that examines the health benefits of parks and natural spaces. Findings suggest that access to safe and high quality green space benefits individuals across every stage of their lifespan and enhances their physical, mental, social and spiritual health and wellbeing.
Accessing parks and green spaces may be particularly beneficial for specific community groups, including Indigenous Australians, those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities and people with disabilities.
The wealth of global evidence connecting parks and their value for improving human health highlights the need to promote and invest in parks to ensure the benefits are realised across all communities.
Although there is currently a strong foundation of knowledge to support the connection between nature and benefits to human health, it is clear that further targeted research is needed. This will be important to ensure the optimal benefits of parks for human health and wellbeing continue to be realised.
Key findings of the report include:
- Access and proximity to safe high quality parks results in increased physical activity levels and improved health outcomes, including mental health.
- In urban areas, parks foster social connections that are vital to community cohesion and contribute to social wellbeing.
- Contact with nature through parks can enhance spiritual health (meaning in life) which underpins all other aspects of health.
- For children, accessible and safe parks foster active play, which is associated with physical, cognitive and social benefits.
- For adolescents, parks improve mental and social health during what is often a tumultuous time of life.
- Park use is linked to physical and psychological health benefits among adults, especially older adults.
- Indigenous peoples are particularly sympathetic to and reliant on contact with nature for their physical, mental, social and spiritual health and this can be offered through parks.
- The potential health benefits of parks may be diminished through barriers such as crime and safety concerns, injury risk, disabilities, gender-related concerns, social and/or cultural norms, proximity/accessibility, weather and pollution.
- Particular community groups, including those from CALD backgrounds, face additional barriers to park use. This includes lack of awareness/information about parks and difficulties with accessing transportation.
- The potential for improving health through use of parks can be enhanced in many ways. This includes park managers, researchers and policy makers promoting the health benefits of nature. Designing spaces in parks that are readily accessible and inclusive and account for diverse users’ motivations and needs will also encourage more people to visit parks and connect with nature.