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Surrender all your cares to the gentle green

Mary Thomas, Associate Editor, ATB, Jan 2019, Edmonton

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks- John Muir
Urbanisation has grown at an unprecedented rate, and with over half the world’s population now residing in cities, many people don’t have access to the green landscapes in which the human species evolved. Urban greenspaces are critical to healthy living, both physically and mentally. There may also be salutogenic effects on mental health and wellbeing, such as increased attention, feelings of happiness and reduced stress.
The effect is real, and over the years, scientists have shown that nature can provide stress relief, increase social interaction, encourage physical exercise and even help soothe mental illness. This effect isn’t limited to forests or beaches that may be miles away. Just about any kind of green space—from hiking trails and coastlines to soccer fields and local parks—can make you happier and boost your mental health, as long as it has a few key qualities.
A group of researchers in the Netherlands found that people who think of their local green spaces as more accessible and usable felt more satisfied with their neighborhood, regardless of the amount of green space they had. Neighborhood satisfaction was associated with happiness, the researchers said.Residents reported better mental health and more emotional attachment to local greenery when they had higher quality green spaces.
Some research has linked specific types of green spaces—broadleaf woods, parks that feature water and areas with significant biodiversity, for example—to good health. If you’re looking to be awed by nature’s beauty, these aesthetic factors can be important.
Dr. Andrew Lee, a public health researcher at the University of Sheffield in England, who has conducted large reviews of green-space research, says the functionality of parks is paramount for making people feel happy. “If it’s a social space, where people meet together and chat and go on walks, that kind of social contact and interaction builds social networks,” Lee says.
Parks without those features do the opposite. If a green space is difficult to get to, has poor lighting or is not clean, it may be seen as unsafe or inaccessible and probably wouldn’t boost a visitor’s mood, explains Lee.
The secret to using nature as a mood booster in these situations. For some people, that may be going to a quiet park to escape their daily routine, while others use nature to challenge themselves with activities like mountain biking or trekking. Still others may find comfort in nature when they interact with animals or listen to soft bird sounds by a gurgling mountain brook.
There is adequate evidence for associations between urban greenspace and life satisfaction. Greenspace accessibility should be measured more specifically, using individual travel distances, spatial methods of analysis, to better understand how greenspaces should be designed and incorporated into urban environments.
Finally, it is summer in AB and we can actually take our dogs on long walks romping on the green under the bright sky. How does a gloomy day, a sunny day in green spaces or a rainy day affect your mood? Write to us at mary@asiantribune.ca.

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