Contact with the environment is thought to have a range of impacts on health and well-being, from better mental health amongst those living closer to green spaces to providing a place for healthy physical activity.
An SPHR project team, led by researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and including a wide range of stakeholders, systematically reviewed literature in order to understand if participation in environmental enhancement or conservation activities has any effect on people’s health and well-being.
The researchers found 21 relevant studies (9 quantitative, 9 qualitative, 3 mixed methods) from the UK, Canada and Australia, among diverse participants, including volunteers, those referred from mental health services or on probation.
There was limited evidence from the quantitative studies that participation had positive effects on individuals’ self-reported health, quality of life and physical activity levels, but also that participation led to increased mental fatigue and feelings of anxiety. Results should be treated with caution because the methods were, generally, not robust and reporting of activities and research processes lacked detail.
The qualitative studies illustrate the experience of people taking part. Benefits that were reported included: increased social contact, feeling a sense of achievement, experience of the natural world, and provision of daily structure.
The researchers created a conceptual framework, based on all the evidence, to capture the complex ways in which different people, interacting with diverse environments and activities, may experience these as mechanisms to enhanced health and well-being.
Given the quality of the evidence, the researchers were unable to draw any definite conclusions. Further research is needed to understand exactly how and why these activities may benefit health, and to assess whether they could be used as an effective health promotion tool.
The initial results of this research were presented at the Environmental Health conference (Boston, MA, USA) in March 2013 with the final results presented at the Cochrane Colloquium (Quebec, Canada) in September.
TagsPublic Mental Health