Healthy parks, healthy people – Leisure and recreation benefits

Some Known Health Benefits of Contact with Nature in a Park Context

Health benefit Key references Park example
Viewing Nature
Improves concentration, remedies mental fatigue, improves psychological health (particularly emotional and cognitive aspects), and positively affects mood state (Kaplan, 1995; Rohde and Kendle, 1994; Ulrich et al., 1991b; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) Parks,such as Tarr Bulga National Park or Sugarloaf Reservoi, are ideal spots for picnicking as a way to view the natural environment to renew body and mind
Reduces stress and tension and improves self-reports of wellbeing (positively influencing the immune system by reducing production of stress hormones such as cortisol and corticosterone)(Leather et al., 1998; Lewis, 1996; Rohde and Kendle, 1994; Kaplan, 1992a)Apart from active exploration, many parks can be experienced from within a vehicle, particularly those with scenic drives such as Macedon Regional Park or Angahook-Lorne State Park
When exposed to scenes of natural environments subjects recover faster and are more resistant to subsequent stress, which also is likely to boost immunity(Parsons et al., 1998)All parks provide ready views of nature and parks like Albert Park and Yarra Bend Park are especially important in urban areas for stress release and wellbeing
Recovery from a stressful event is faster and more complete when subjects are exposed to natural rather than urban scenes, and heart rate and muscle tension decreases (yet it increases when viewing urban scenes)(Ulrich et al., 1991b)Parks near places of high stress such as prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes most likely provide many more benefits beyond purely aesthetic ones
Viewing nature improves performance in attention demanding tasks (Tennessen and Cimprich, 1995)Natural views are provided in urban areas courtesy of local, neighbourhood, and regional parks (many of which are managed by local as well as State government)
Viewing nature aids recovery from mental fatigue (attention restoration) and encourages reflection by requiring involuntary attention (Herzog et al., 1997; Kaplan, 1995; 1992b; Hartig et al., 1991; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Furnass, 1979)Some parks can provide close up views of nature to aid in attention restoration, while others like Port Campbell provide views of wide, open spaces encouraging a fresh perspective on life
Views of flowers and trees in the workplace reduce perceived job stress, improve job satisfaction, and reduce the incidence of reported illness and headaches of office workers (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) As well as providing a natural view, parks in urban areas are used by office workers to take a break from being indoors, to breath fresh air, view nature, and
absorb sunshine
Trees nearby: decrease levels of fear, incivilities, and violence amongst residents; decrease crime rates in public housing; and improve the life satisfaction of residents (Kuo and Sullivan, 2001; Kuo, 2001) The positive effects of vegetation on communities could have an impact on future park planning and park placement.
Parks preserve and maintain
essential habitat and ecosystems,
(including trees and other
Health benefit Key references Park example
Being in Nature
Natural play settings reduce the severity of symptoms of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and improve concentration (Taylor et al., 2001) Parks within urban areas such as Yarra Bend Park or Wattle Park are easily accessible to educational groups such as schools and family or community organisations
Viewing nature enhances residents’ satisfaction and makes higher density living more acceptable (Kaplan, 2001; Rodiek and Fried, 2005; Kearney, 2006)Parks near residential developments may provide a range of social and emotional benefits to residents
Natural surroundings assist cognitive functioning in children ells, 2000) Parks have special significance to schools, kindergartens, and childcare centres with limited green space
Wilderness areas provide spiritual inspiration, enable people to gain a fresh perspective on life, and provide an opportunity to ‘get away’(Ward Thompson et al, 2005; Cumes, 1998; Cordell et al., 1998; Martin, 1996; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) Parks of intact wilderness, such as Grampians National Park or Bay of Islands Coastal Park, can provide spiritual inspiration for local, interstate, and international visitors
Therapy in a wilderness setting heals
emotional and psychological conditions and
can aid those recovering from substance abuse
and violence
(Russell et al., 1999;
Crisp and O’Donnell,
1998; Crisp and
Aunger, 1998;
Bennett et al., 1997;
Byers, 1979)
Large, rugged National Parks such
as Wilson’s Promontory are ideal
for wilderness therapy excursions
and Outward Bound programs
where there can be many
physical and mental challenges
to overcome, as well as much to
Outward Bound and similar programs use wilderness challenges to boost self-confidence and self-esteem (Cumes, 1998; Furnass, 1979)Many National Parks have minimal visitor infrastructure which is ideal for wilderness challenges or for those seeking adventure
Observing Plants andGardens, or Gardening
Community gardens increase community cohesion, reduce graffiti and violence and enhance self-image of residents (Lewis, 1996; Reuter and Reuter, 1992; Lewis, 1992; 1990; Bartolomei, Corkery, Judd, and Thompson, 2003; Glover, Shinew and Parry, 2004; Parry and Shinew, 2005; Glover, Shinew and Parry, 2005.)The most significant aspect of community gardens is the sense of ownership residents’ gain. This could also apply to Friends of Parks groups who care for their local park
Gardening and gardens help people to feel tranquil and at peace (Butterfield and Relf, 1992) Sculptured gardens such as the National Rhododendron Gardens
Health benefit Key references Park example
In habitat restoration people see a metaphor for their own personal transformation and growth, enhancing psychological wellbeing (Shapiro, 1995) Many of the Friends of Parks groups regularly carry out habitat restoration via planting and weeding workshops
Gardens improve psychological wellbeing, provide environmental stimulation, a means of self-expression, physical exercise, and social interaction for residents of retirement communities (Browne, 1992) Retirement communities without gardens can readily access urban parks and gardens whether highly manicured (e.g. National Rhododendron Gardens) or more natural parks (e.g. Yarra Bend Park)
Residents who have nature nearby or regularly pursue nature-related activities (e.g. gardening, birdwatching) have greater neighbourhood satisfaction, overall health and life satisfaction than residents who do notFrey, 1981 in Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; (Kaplan, 2001; Kearney, 2006) Many residents in urban areas are in close proximity to a park, yet as housing density increases, increased pressure will be placed on existing parklands


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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