Contact with the environment is thought to have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing, from better mental health amongst those living closer to green spaces to providing a place for healthy activities such as walking or cycling.
As a result there has been a recent increase in projects aiming to use the environment as a means to improve individuals’ health and well-being. Environmental enhancement or conservation activities, are one way this is being achieved and aims to benefit health through active participation.
The systematic review found 21 quantitative (based on numerical data) and qualitative (based on text from interviews) studies from the UK, Canada and Australia which had assessed whether taking part in environmental enhancement and conservation activities might improve health and wellbeing in adults.
The quality of the available evidence was not sufficient to draw reliable conclusions, and the majority of the studies reported no effect on health and well-being outcomes. However, there was limited evidence that participation had positive effects on individuals’ self-reported health, quality of life and physical activity levels, but also some evidence reporting that participation led to increased mental fatigue and greater feelings of anxiety.
The results of the studies need to be treated with caution because the research methods used were not very robust (i.e. they could not show definitively that participation caused any health change) and because the reporting of how the activities and the research were undertaken was inconsistent, and lacking in crucial detail. The more detailed descriptions from the qualitative studies illustrate the experience of people taking part, which may impact on health and well-being. These factors included: increased social contact (particularly for socially isolated individuals such as those experiencing mental ill health), opportunities for feeling a sense of achievement, experience of the natural world, and providing daily structure.
Given the quality of the evidence, researchers were unable to draw any definite conclusions about the impacts of environmental enhancement activity. More reliable 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.
Husk K, Lovell R, Cooper C, Stahl-Timmins W, Garside R. Participation in environmental enhancement and conservation activities for health and well-being in adults: a review of quantitative and qualitative evidence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016 21:5.
Lovell R, Husk K, Cooper C, Stahl-Timmins W, Garside R. Understanding how environmental enhancement and conservation activities may benefit health and wellbeing: a systematic review. BMC Public Health 2015 15:864.
Briefing document for public health practitioners: What are the health benefits of taking part in environment/conservation activities for different groups of people? A theory led systematic
review (briefing). Naturally Healthy: Improving Engagement with Our Natural Environment Behaviour Change Scoping Report, Devon Local Nature Partnership & Public Health Devon, Jul 2014.
Husk K, Lovell R, Cooper C, Garside R. Participation in environmental enhancement and conservation activities for health and well-being in adults (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD010351.
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TagsConservation activitiesEnvironmentEnvironmental enhancementHealth and wellbeingSystematic review