This study showing better mental health among people living close to parks and water will trigger other studies about how these benefits work and whether this proximity can help prevent or delay mild cognitive impairment and dementia.
The study involved 42,980 people aged 65 or older living in urban areas in the state of Washington. Researchers looked at data from the U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify how close participants lived to green and blue spaces.
Green space was defined as public parks, community gardens, and cemeteries. Blue space was defined as water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs, large rivers, and coasts.
Participants completed a questionnaire to assess psychological distress. They answered six questions on how often they felt depression and anxiety symptoms using a five-point scale ranging from zero, meaning none of the time, to four, meaning all the time.
Questions included items like how many days they were unable to work due to psychological distress, how many days their productivity was at least halved by distress, and how many times they sought professional help. Scores ranged from 0 to 24, with an average score of 2.
Parks, Rivers, Lakes: Nature’s Great Stress Relievers
Participants who scored above 13 on the test were considered to have serious psychological distress. Researchers reported that around 2% of the participants had serious psychological distress. Of the total participants, 70% lived within half a mile of a green space and 60% lived within half a mile of a blue space.
People living within half a mile of green or blue spaces had a 17% lower risk of experiencing serious psychological distress compared to people living further than half a mile from green or blue spaces.
Of the people who lived within a half mile of parks and water, 1.3% had serious psychological distress, compared to 1.5% of the people who lived further than half a mile.
Researchers are hoping that this study may help inform public health policies in the future, from where residential facilities are located to programs to improve mental health outcomes of people living in long-term care centers or nursing homes.
A limitation of the study was that people reported their psychological distress and may not have remembered and reported all details accurately. Let us hope that future studies overcome this limitation.
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