The power of green

By David Jolley

As I spend quite a lot of time working with other volunteers to maintain our local park, I was interested to read Tom Bawden’s article in the i 26.2.19 ‘Green spaces boost children’s mental health. His source is a fabulous paper from the University of Aarhus: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/02/26/1807504116.

How can you argue with the immaculate work of authors with names which speak of carefulness? The study combined findings from high resolution satellite pictures of Denmark since 1985, which are used to compute a vegetation index, and the Danish Civil Registration System linked with the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register. What a wealth of data – based in a long tradition of Scandinavian epidemiology research which was exploited all those years ago by David Kay. The findings indicate that living in proximity to green space during the first ten years of life is protective against the development of mental health problems in adolescence and early adulthood. It does not yet stretch as far as the disorders of late life because we are only 34 years on from when satellite data became available for the first time.

This work adds to the literature which documents the general health benefits of green spaces in the lived in environment: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866715001016.

Green space is an antidote to air pollution. There is a literature which has pointed to increased mental health problems associated with raised air pollution: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/6/e010004 (another Scandinavian study – this one from Sweden).

Returning to green space – review of studies across the life course do find a positive relationship between time lived in a green environment and sustained cognitive function: http://public-files.prbb.org/publicacions/d1c87730-740f-0134-7241-00155df14f0e.pdf.

Air pollution in London is associated increased incidence of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/9/e022404.

So time and money spent on our parks and other green spaces are more than justified. First is the provision and maintenance of such resources – the worth of which was intuitively known to philanthropists of the past. The next is to foster activities which encourage people to use them and feel at home in them for exercise, entertainment and relaxation.

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