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Restoration and stress relief through physical activities in forests and parks

Key Message

Suffering from headaches and stress decreased significantly, and feeling well-balanced increased significantly. Positive effects increased with length of visit, and individuals practising sports showed significantly higher improvements than those engaged in less strenuous activities.  An attractive design is also important because there appears to be a close link between aesthetics and environmental preference on the one hand, and expected and experienced restoration on the other .

Source

Hansmann, R., Hug, S.M., & Seeland, K. (2007). Restoration and stress relief through physical activities in forests and parks. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 6(4), 213-225.

Purpose

A field survey assessed the restorative effects of visiting an urban forest and a city park in Zurich, Switzerland. Respondents rated their headaches, level of stress, and how balanced they felt both prior to visiting the outdoor location and at the time of being interviewed.

In contemporary western societies, many physical illnesses, including coronary disease and cancer, are strongly related to sedentary, physically inactive lifestyles, and chronic stress (Krantz and McCeney, 2002; Breckenkamp et al., 2004; Kopp and Réthelyi, 2004). Urban planners are thus challenged to improve the health and well-being of citizens by creating public spaces that facilitate recovery from stress and motivate people to become physically active. People tend to favour green spaces like nature reserves, woodlands, and urban parks for recovering from stress (Bell et al., 2005).

Evidence

Suffering from headaches and stress decreased significantly, and feeling well-balanced increased significantly. The recovery ratio for stress was 87%, and the reduction in headaches was 52%, in terms of the possible improvements on five-point rating scales. With respect to feeling well-balanced, the observed changes amounted to 40% of the possible enhancement. Positive effects increased with length of visit, and individuals practising sports (e.g., jogging, biking, playing ball) showed significantly higher improvements than those engaged in less strenuous activities (e.g., taking a walk or relaxing). These findings support previous research on how exercise in green spaces promotes well-being and recovery from stress.

The balance-enhancing and stress-reducing effects of forest and park visits can be achieved at low cost for a wide range of urban users. Landscape and green space designers have an opportunity to promote health and well-being by creating environments that attract users and encourage them to be physically active. Public urban green spaces have to be appealing to attract those who spend most of their leisure time in sedentary indoor activities like watching television, playing computer games, or surfing the Internet. An attractive design is also important because there appears to be a close link between aesthetics and environmental preference on the one hand, and expected and experienced restoration on the other (Purcell et al., 2001; Herzog et al., 2003; Staats et al., 2003; Van den Berg et al., 2003; Pretty et al., 2005).

Public health campaigns (cf. Bailis et al., 2005; Hagberg and Lindholm, 2005) can encourage people to visit green spaces frequently and engage in outdoor exercise.

Additional Information

EXSUM | 2007 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved. E-mail addresses: hansmann@env.ethz.ch (R. Hansmann), stella-maria.hug@env.ethz.ch (S.-M. Hug).

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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