London: Green spaces - such as parks and gardens - in towns and cities could lead to significant and sustained improvements in mental health, according to a new study.
Also, moving to a greener area not only improves people's mental health, but the effect continues long after they have moved, UK researchers found.
The research is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time and used data from the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain.
Using data from over 1,000 participants who were followed over a five year period, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas.
They found that, on average, movers to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least 3 years after they moved.
The study also showed that people relocating to a more built up area suffered a drop in mental health. Interestingly this fall occurred before they moved; returning to normal once the move was complete.
"We've shown that individuals who move to greener areas have significant and long-lasting improvements in mental health," said lead researcher, Dr Ian Alcock.
"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," Alcock said.
"We needed to answer important questions about how the effects of green space vary over time," said co-author of the study, Dr Mathew White.
"Do people experience a novelty effect, enjoying the new green area after the move, but with the novelty then wearing off? Or do they take time to realise the benefits of their new surroundings as they gradually get to know local parks.
"What we've found suggests that the mental health benefits of green space are not only immediate, but sustainable over long periods of time," White said.
The study is published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology.