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Living Close To Parks Could Prevent Serious Mental Health Problems: Study

Those adults who live close to green spaces are less exposed to mental or psychological distress.  

Living close to parks or water could prevent serious mental health problems and even dementia, a new study reveals.

Adults living within half a mile of blue and green spaces have a 17 percent lower risk of experiencing serious psychological distress compared to those living further away.

Suffering from this kind of distress can lead to mild cognitive impairment and dementia, meaning being local to these outdoor spaces could help prevent developing these conditions.

Psychological distress has been defined as mental health problems that require treatment and have a moderate to severe effect on a person’s ability to participate in work, school and social situations.

A man can be seen sitting on a bench in a park in the residential Rusanivka district on Aug. 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Compared to adults who live farther away, those who live within half a mile of blue and green spaces are 17 percent less likely to experience severe psychological discomfort. ARTEM GVOZDKOV/GETTY IMAGES

Dr. Solmaz Amiri, from Washington State University Elson Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane, Washington, said: “Since we lack effective prevention methods or treatments for mild cognitive impairment and dementia, we need to get creative in how we look at these issues.

“Our hope is that this study showing better mental health among people living close to parks and water will trigger other studies about how these benefits work and whether this proximity can help prevent or delay mild cognitive impairment and dementia.”

The study involved 42,980 people aged 65 or older who live in urban areas of Washington state.

Researchers looked at data from the U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify how close each person lived to green and blue spaces.

Green space was defined as public parks, community gardens and cemeteries. Blue space was defined as water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs, large rivers and coasts.

Participants answered six questions about their experience with psychological distress.

They rated how often they felt depression and anxiety symptoms using a five-point scale ranging from zero, meaning none of the time, to four, meaning all the time.

Questions included how many days they were unable to work due to psychological distress, how many days their productivity was at least halved by distress, and how many times they sought professional help.

Scores ranged from zero to 24, with an average score of two.

Participants who scored above 13 on the test were considered to have serious psychological distress.

Researchers reported that around two percent of the participants suffered from serious psychological distress.

Out of the group, 70 per cent lived within half a mile of a green space and 60 per cent lived within half a mile of a blue space.

Of the people who lived within a half mile of parks and water, 1.3 per cent had serious psychological distress, compared to 1.5 per cent of the people who lived further than half a mile.

A man sits with his dog along the boardwalk at the iconic Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park on Sep. 18, 2022. Compared to 1.5% of those who lived more than half a mile away from parks and water, 1.3% of those who lived nearby had severe psychological distress, reveals a new study. GEORGE ROSE/GETTY IMAGES

Amiri added: “Our hope is that this study may help inform public health policies in the future, from where residential facilities are located to programs to improve mental health outcomes of people living in long-term care centers or nursing homes.”

There were limits to the study, such as people reporting on their own psychological distress may not have remembered and documented all the details accurately.

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting in Boston raking place from April 22-27 of this year.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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