Even small differences in the availability of urban green and blue spaces may be associated with better mental and physical health in older adults, according to a Washington State University study.
The study’s findings showed that having just 10% more forest space in a person’s residential ZIP code was associated with reduced serious psychological distress, which covers mental health problems that require treatment and interfere with people’s social lives, work or school. Similarly, a 10% increase in green space, tree cover, water bodies or trail length lowered the chance that older people reported their general health as poor or fair.
Published in the journal Health & Place, the study is based on health survey data from more than 42,000 people aged 65 and older who lived in urban areas of Washington state between 2011 and 2019. In their analysis, the researchers related survey respondents’ general and mental health outcomes to different measures that quantified access to green and blue spaces, such as forests, parks, lakes and rivers, within their residential ZIP codes. Close to 2% of respondents showed signs of serious psychological distress and 19% reported having fair or poor general health.