Time Health: Researchers have long touted the mood-boosting effects of green space and spending time outdoors — and a new study emphasizes just how much of an impact your environment can have on your mental health.
The paper, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, found an association between urban restoration efforts in Philadelphia and the mental health of city residents. “Cleaning and greening” urban lots in Philadelphia was linked to a drop in neighborhood residents feeling depressed or worthless, and a slight uptick in overall resident mental health, the study says.
“Vacant lot greening is a very simple structural intervention that’s relatively low-cost and that can have a potentially wide or broad population impact,” says study co-author Dr. Eugenia South, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “Performing simple interventions to the neighbourhood environment has an impact on health.”
For the study, a team of researchers identified 541 vacant lots in Philadelphia and divided them into clusters: groups of lots within a quarter-mile radius that all showed signs of urban blight, like illegal dumping, abandoned cars and overgrown vegetation. Next, they interviewed 442 adults living within one of these clusters. People were told they had been chosen for a study focused on “improving our understanding of urban health,” and answered questions about mental health. They did not know the researchers were involved in forthcoming urban greening efforts.
After the initial surveys were completed, the researchers randomly selected 37 lot clusters for a greening intervention that involved removing trash and debris, planting grass and trees, installing a fence and performing routine maintenance. Another 36 clusters had trash removed and minor maintenance, but little in the way of increasing green space. The final 37 were left untouched.
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