A recent study conducted by Washington State University has found that even minor differences in the availability of green and blue spaces in urban areas can have a significant impact on the mental and physical health of older adults. The researchers discovered that a mere 10% increase in forest space in a person’s residential area was associated with a decrease in serious psychological distress. Similarly, a 10% increase in green space, tree cover, water bodies, or trail length lowered the likelihood of older individuals reporting poor or fair general health. The study emphasizes the potential public health implications of losing urban green and blue spaces due to rapid urbanization.
Published in the journal Health & Place, the study analyzed health survey data from over 42,000 individuals aged 65 and older living in urban areas of Washington state between 2011 and 2019. The researchers examined the relationship between the respondents’ general and mental health outcomes and their access to green and blue spaces, such as forests, parks, lakes, and rivers, within their residential ZIP codes. The results showed that approximately 2% of respondents exhibited signs of serious psychological distress, while 19% reported fair or poor general health.
While previous studies have explored the impact of proximity to nature on health, this study is one of the first to examine this relationship specifically among older adults in the United States. Older individuals are particularly susceptible to mental health issues like depression, which has been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Unfortunately, they are also less likely to receive appropriate treatment for these conditions.
The lead author of the study, Adithya Vegaraju, suggests that exposure to green and blue spaces could potentially prevent or delay poor mental health in older adults. Vegaraju proposes nature prescriptions as a potential solution, wherein healthcare providers prescribe spending time outdoors as a form of treatment. However, further research is needed to fully understand how exposure to green and blue spaces directly impacts mental and general health.
Senior study author Solmaz Amiri emphasizes the importance of investigating the link between nature exposure and cognitive decline, which can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Amiri hopes that this research will contribute to addressing health disparities among older adults from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as access to green and blue spaces in urban areas may be unequal.
In conclusion, the study highlights the significant role that urban green and blue spaces play in the mental and physical well-being of older adults. The findings underscore the need to prioritize the preservation and accessibility of these spaces as a means of promoting public health. Further research is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms behind this relationship and to develop interventions that leverage the benefits of nature exposure for older adults.