Spending 20 minutes in an urban park will make someone happier regardless of whether they engage in exercise during the visit, a study has found. According to the study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, urban parks have been recognised as key neighbourhood places that provide residents with opportunities to experience nature and engage in various activities.
Through contact with the natural environment and engagement in health-promoting and/or social and recreational activities in parks, users experience physical and mental health benefits such as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue.
The original intent of the project was to validate previous research findings on the impact of park visit on emotional well-being, and evaluate the contribution of choosing to participate in physical activity in the park in relation to emotional well-being after the park visit.
“Overall, we found park visitors reported an improvement in emotional well-being after the park visit,” said Hon K Yuen, a professor at University of Alabama at Birmingham in the US.
“However, we did not find levels of physical activity are related to improved emotional well-being. Instead, we found time spent in the park is related to improved emotional well-being,” said Yuen.
This means that potentially all people can benefit from time in a park, according to Gavin R Jenkins, from University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“If you cannot be physically active due to ageing, a disability or any other limitations, the study implies a person can still gain health benefits just from a visit to a local park,” Jenkins said.
Data was collected from 98 adult park visitors; four visitors reported that they participated in this study twice. Data from the second participation were excluded, resulting in 94 unique participants participating in the study.
These parks were selected for the study because they were the three main public parks in Mountain Brook and had a relatively high volume of visitors daily.
Yuen said several limitations of the study included the lack of objective data to measure emotional health and confining the study to just three urban parks in a six-month data collection period.
Although a small study, Jenkins said the significance of these findings helps reinforce the need for more urban parks and the conservation of those that already exist.