The ‘glimmer of green’ while driving to work is really good for mental health

But people go to work or the supermarket or visit friends. They deal with different environments and people on a daily basis. “What is the effect of the way people move through their day?”

Partial data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) gave the researchers a picture of the impact of social and green environments on the whole of life. At the same time, they followed the daily movements of about 400 participants for a week via a special application. This made it possible to track the amount of time participants spent in a green environment. The app also checked how many Bluetooth devices were in the person’s immediate vicinity. This allowed the researchers to estimate the number of social interactions they had on a daily basis. They also tracked the number of incoming and outgoing phone calls and messages.

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Psychological health

Before that, participants completed a questionnaire in which they could read whether they had had symptoms of depression in the past two weeks. “It turns out that people who spent more time in a green environment convincingly had fewer symptoms,” says Roberts. And they didn’t have to spend hours in nature for that. “If you pass green on your way to work, it will really have a positive effect. Even if you go from one gray building to another, every little bit of green helps.”

The same is true for more social interactions, no matter how small. Although you won’t of course solve depression by biking to work along a green belt or greeting a cashier. “Recovering from depression requires many different things. Green is also not the answer to everything. But the connection between a green environment and strong mental health certainly exists.” So it certainly doesn’t hurt to plan more walks along the trees and lawns.

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The results of the entire NEEDS project show that government can actively contribute to improving mental health. For example, by achieving more green spaces and making more space for places that stimulate social interaction, such as community centers. But you can also make green or social choices on your own. For example, during the pandemic, many have taken countless paths to maintain their mental health. And they weren’t in vain, says Roberts. “Even though you don’t really want to, it can make a difference if you still do that round.”

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Megan Vasquez

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