Healthy parks, healthy people – Principal health outcomes

Below is a summary of the main benefits to the health and wellbeing for
individuals and communities that arise from contact with nature. The benefits are summarised into the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s seven dimensions of holistic health (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1998), including: 1) biological/mental wellbeing; 2) social/community wellbeing; 3) economic wellbeing; 4) environmental wellbeing; 5) life satisfaction; 6) spiritual/existential wellbeing; and 7) ‘other characteristics valued by humans’. As the components of health are interrelated, there is some overlap.

1 Biological and mental wellbeing

• Contact with nature provides a sense of wellbeing and positively influences immunity and cardiovascular function;
• Contact with nature reduces the magnitude of the physiological response to stress and enhances the ability to cope with, and recover from, stressful episodes;
• Some positive physiological effects of viewing nature include reduction of heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, and skin conductance;
• Viewing or touching a pet or animals reduces stress, decreases blood pressure and heart rate;
• Views of nature improve psychological health, particularly emotional and cognitive;
• Natural surroundings assist cognitive functioning in children (including
reducing the symptoms of attention deficit disorder);
• Views of nature improve performance in attention demanding tasks and can restore concentration/attention;
• Nature and parks promote healing in patients suffering from severe trauma, cancer, depression, anxiety, and other life-altering afflictions;
• Pet ownership can reduce the risk factors for heart disease (systolic blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, plasma triglycerides) independently of lifestyle and other health factors;
• Views of nature reduce self-reports of illnesses, such as headaches and
digestive disorders, in people who live or work in confined, indoor spaces
(such as offices and prisons);
• Nurturing living organisms may have distinct beneficial physiological (and emotional) responses that improve overall health and wellbeing;
• Contact with nature improves self-awareness, self-esteem, self-concept,
and positively affects mood state, which have positive flow-on effects to
physiological state (such as boosting immunity);
• Contact with nature is effective in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety,
depression, and psychosomatic illness (including irritability, restlessness,
insomnia, tension, headaches, and indigestion);
• Pet ownership and interacting with plants (i.e. via gardening) encourages individuals to undertake physical exercise;
• Pet-ownership can improve mental health by providing companionship
(regardless of overall health, socio-economic status, or physical exercise).

Giant swing on the way up astGlenhaven Park Camps

Social and community wellbeing

• Interacting with nature or participating in nature-based activities in one’s local neighbourhood (such as Friends of Parks groups) can promote a sense of community, foster a sense of belonging or sense of place, and enhance social ties/relationships;
• Pet ownership can foster social relationships through contact with other pet owners (or park users), thereby expanding social networks;
• Contact with nature reduces the stresses associated with urban living (such as crowding, noise, pollution, etc).
• Natural environments foster social capital within neighbourhoods by
providing settings for groups to meet formally and informally for recreational or leisure pursuits;
• Where community members are engaged in civic environmentalism (for
example, Friends of Parks and other community volunteer groups) there are significant spin-offs for social connectedness and social capital;
• Residents who have nature nearby, or who regularly pursue nature related activities have greater neighbourhood satisfaction, and have better overall health than residents who do not;
• Nature in high density urban living can reduce vandalism, violence, crime rates, ease racial tension or prejudices, and result in neighbourhood and personal transformation;
• Contact with nature can foster a sense of identity and ownership, and provide a sense of integration rather than isolation for newly arrived migrants;
• Horticultural therapy and animal-assisted therapy programs in prisons (via contact with plants or animals) can reduce aggression and vandalism in inmates, provide job training, and enhance self-esteem.

Economic wellbeing

• Views of nature from detention centres and prisons have the potential to reduce the incidence of illness (particularly stress related illness) in inmates, reducing health care costs in prisons;
• Views of nature from hospitals and other care facilities (such as nursing
homes) have the potential to reduce recovery time (number of days spent in hospital), reduce the quantities of medication required to treat patients, and reduce incidences of post-operative surgery in patients;
• Contact with nature improves job satisfaction, overall health, and reduces job stress in the workforce as well as reducing number of sick days and employee absences;
• Parks and natural features attract businesses;
• Trees in urban streets attract consumers and tourists to business districts, and are seen to increase appeal;
• Tourism is the third largest industry worldwide, with growth occurring
particularly in wilderness or nature-based tourism;
• Parks and nature tourism generate employment in regional areas;
• Significant natural features, including parks and gardens, raise real estate values;
• Contact with nature can potentially reduce the burden of disease on the
current health care system. For example, for pet ownership alone preliminary estimates of savings to the health care system are between AUD$790 million to AUD$1.5 billion annually (Headey and Anderson, 1995);
• Views of nature from detention centres and prisons have the potential to reduce the incidence of illness (particularly stress related illness) in inmates, also reducing health care costs in prisons;
• Interaction with nature encourages a holistic/ecological approach to health, giving people a sense of control over their own health and wellbeing which may lead to less reliance on health care services.

Environmental wellbeing

• Greater financial and in kind support for parks will assist conservation and improvement of the natural (indigenous) values of parks;
• Increased participation in ‘Friends of Parks’ and other volunteer groups may improve natural values/capital within parks
• Improved understanding of the need for natural areas may lead to green corridors and extended conservation areas
• Greater awareness of the human health and wellbeing benefits of nature may improve conservation of additional natural spaces (such as those set aside for industry, for example).

Life satisfaction

• Contact with nature reduces the incidence of negative feelings such as anger, fear, anxiety, and frustration, and induces peace of mind;
• Contact with nature, or having nature nearby, improves quality of life, work satisfaction, and the coping ability of residents in urban areas;
• Natural environments foster a state of reflection, enabling one to gain
perspective on life, and create an awareness of one’s surroundings;
• Knowing that nature is nearby (particularly animals) improves quality of life and neighbourhood satisfaction of residents;
• Contact with wilderness can develop leadership abilities, which translate positively into other areas of life;

Spiritual / existential wellbeing

• Nature provides spiritual inspiration, enabling people to gain a different or deeper perspective on life, for example by the realisation that they are part of something larger and universal;
• Contact with nature can inspire feelings of peace, oneness, connectedness, and strength;
• Nature is important to all people/cultures, in ‘developed’ and ‘undeveloped’ nations, for providing spiritual inspiration;
• Contemplation of nature can inspire a sense of freedom, reverence, encourage humility, prompt introspection and reflection on personal values, and lead to spiritual growth or enlightenment;
• Spirituality arising from contact with nature can reduce psychosis, substance abuse, and heal those suffering from violence and/or injury.

Other characteristics valued by humans

• Parks and nature are an affordable, non-elitist, highly accessible means of improving community health that may help people reach their full potential;
• Parks are a public resource yet to be fully utilised for individual and
community health and wellbeing.

Citation

Healthy parks, healthy people
The health benefits of contact with nature in a park context
A review of relevant literature
2nd edition
March 2008
School of Health and Social Development Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences
Deakin University
Burwood, Melbourne

© Deakin University and Parks Victoria 2008
Authors Dr. Cecily Maller Associate Professor Mardie Townsend Associate Professor Lawrence St Leger Dr Claire Henderson-Wilson Ms Anita Pryor Ms Lauren Prosser Dr Megan Moore

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