HEG conducted a rapid review of the evidence in relation to physical activity, green space and health.
Green space has for many decades been linked to both social and health benefits for those that access it.
This assumption is now supported by a growing body of robust research, which identifies that high quality green space brings considerable benefits to the local economy, to the environment and to people’s physical and mental health in particular in terms of reducing obesity, decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes and improvements in mental health and wellbeing. Research has shown that residents in high 'greenery' environments were 40% less likely to be overweight and obese as those in the lowest greenery category. The Faculty of Public Health, in their recent publication Great Outdoors (2010), note that ‘Safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs in treating some forms of mental illnesses’.
In terms of public health, green space is most commonly associated with physical activity and mental health and wellbeing. Current evidence suggests that individuals could derive health benefits by engaging in as little as 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly for adults and 1 hour a day for children and young people (DH2011). However physical activity levels have declined over recent decades and reversing this decline could confer considerable population health benefits. The UK government set targets to increase levels of participation in physical activity and sport including measures for providing cleaner, safer and greener public spaces. (DCMS 2002) and the Marmot Review (2010) stressed the importance of creating more good quality open space where it is lacking to help tackle health inequalities.
Public parks account for one-third of all the public green space and 90% of peoples green space use. If an area has high quality parks, it is likely that more residents will use them more often; people are more satisfied with their neighbourhood and are more likely to report better health. However there are stark differences in the provision and accessibility of green space based on socio economic status and ethnicity. Provision of green space is worse in deprived areas than in affluent areas.
This review examines the evidence base relating to green space and health and green space and physical activity levels. The review finds that there are considerable inconsistencies and contradictions in the findings of research in these areas. However, on balance of the evidence considered within this review clearly indicates a positive association between access to high quality green space and health and access to high quality green space and physical activity.