Green spaces in cities promote well-being and mental health


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'Nature' Neuroscience study published with participation of GIScience researchers at Heidelberg University


Inner city green areas such as lawns,

flowerbeds, trees or parks can directly improve the well-being of city

dwellers. These are the findings of a recent study conducted by scientists

from GIScience Research

Group at Heidelberg University and the Heidelberg Institute for

Geoinformation Technology (HeiGIT)

together with the Central Institute for Mental Health

(ZI) in Mannheim and researchers from the Mental HMealth Lab at the

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). It was also examined who benefits from

this effect. The research results were published in "Nature

Neuroscience" (

). In order to examine the effect of green spaces in cities on well-being in

everyday urban life, 33 healthy city dwellers were asked to rate their mood

several times a day for one week using specially equipped smartphones. The

participants went about their everyday life as usual during this time. Using

geo-informatics methods, it was possible to trace the paths covered and

identify green areas in that area. It has been shown that the subjects showed a

higher level of well-being in situations where they were surrounded by a higher

proportion of green space. In a second step, 52 other young adults were asked

to rate their mood in everyday life in the same way. The evaluation confirmed

the results from the first part. In addition, these participants were subjected

to functional magnetic resonance imaging after the seven-day assessment phase.

This method allows to represent certain brain functions. The researchers

observed a diminished activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in people

who responded positively to the green areas in their everyday lives. It is a

brain region that has a central control role in processing negative emotions

and stressful environmental experiences. In the words of Prof. Dr. med. Andreas

Meyer-Lindenberg, CEO of the ZI and Medical Director of the Department of

Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, suggest these results that green spaces are

particularly important for people whose capacity to regulate negative emotions

themselves is diminished. According to Markus Reichert of the Mental MHealth

Lab of KIT, who together with the ZI researchers Dr. Ing. Urs Braun and Prof.

Dr. Dr. Heike Tost and the Heidelberg GIScience researchers is one of the first

authors of the study, green areas distributed well over a city could develop a

considerable potential for prevention with regard to mental illnesses

As Prof. Dr. Alexander Zipf, head of the

GIScience Research Group at the Institute of Geography of Heidelberg University

explains, it is the innovative combination of methods in the fields of

epidemiology, psychology, geoinformatics and neuroimaging that has made these

socially relevant study results possible. Practical application of the results

can for example be found in urban planning. "Geoinformatics is

playing an increasingly important role in research on environmental

issues," says Dr. Sven Lautenbach from the Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation

Technology (HeiGIT), which is also headed by Prof. Zipf. The study also

supports current research on healthy and green routing. Here, route planning systems are developed that suggest user-dependent

pedestrian routes that have particularly high shares of green areas or

particularly low noise levels.

Explore more: City Planning

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