UK researchers who analyzed data that tracked people’s health for 5 years after they moved to greener areas suggests not only that it improved their mental health, but also that the benefit lasted long afterward.

Writing about their findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School suggest creating more green spaces in towns and cities – for example parks and gardens – could bring lasting benefits to public health.

In their background information, the researchers explain how despite growing evidence about the mental health benefits of green spaces in towns and cities, little of it comes from studies that have followed people over time. Theirs is one of the few that has done this.

For their research, the team drew on data from over over 1,000 participants taking part in the British Household Panel Survey, which covers households across Great Britain.

One of the questionnaires that participants in the panel survey completed every year over the 5 years of the study is the General Health Questionnaire, which includes items on mental health.

The team was interested in comparing people who moved to greener areas in towns and cities with those who moved to less green urban areas.

After adjusting for personality differences and other factors that affect mental health over time – for instance income, employment and education – they found on average, that those people who moved into greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that persisted for at least 3 years.

And conversely, those who moved to a more built-up area with less green space experienced a drop in mental health. But what was interesting was the pattern of the fall: it fell before they moved, then went back to normal after they had moved.

Dr. Ian Alcock, a research fellow at Exeter’s Medical School, led the research and says its main message is that people who move to greener areas experience significant and long-lasting mental health improvement. He adds:

These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities.”

Dr. Alcock further explains his team’s findings in a video posted here.

The study follows an earlier one reported in April 2013, by the same team at Exeter, that showed green spaces boost well-being in cities. Again, using British Household Panel Survey data, this time covering 18 years, they established it was living in green areas that boosted mental well-being, and not that it was people with greater well-being tended to move to greener areas.