Who ever thought the slight detour through the park could be so beneficial?

A study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) reveals that people who commute through natural environments report better mental health. The study included questionnaires answered by nearly 3,600 participants across four European cities and was published in the Environmental International.

The participants came from Barcelona (Spain), Doetinchem (the Netherlands), Kaunas (Lithuania) and Stoke-on-Trent (UK) and answered a questionnaire about their commuting habits and their mental health. The results showed that respondents commuting through natural environments on a daily basis had, on average, a 2.74 point higher mental health score vs those who did so less frequently. This association was even more solid among people who reported active commuting (i.e. walking or cycling). Natural environments were categorized as all public and private outdoor spaces that contain ‘green’ and/or ‘blue’ natural elements such as trees, forests, city parks and natural parks/reserves, and was also inclusive of bodies of water.

Natural environments

The results demonstrated that there were more active commuters among those who commute through natural environments daily. However, the quality of the natural environments where the commuting took place did not influence the results one way or another.

” From previous experimental studies we knew that physical activity in natural environments can reduce stress, improve mood and mental restoration when compared to the equivalent activity in urban environments. Although this study is the first of its kind to our knowledge and, therefore, more research will be needed, our data show that commuting through these natural spaces alone may also have a positive effect on mental health ” – Wilma Zijlema, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study.

“Mental health and physical inactivity are two of the main public health problems associated with the life in urban environments. Urban design could be a powerful tool to confront these challenges and create healthier cities. One way of doing so would be investing in natural commuting routes for cycling and walking,” says Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, coordinator of the ISGlobal Initiative of Urban Planning, Environment and Health and last author of the study.

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