Green and blue spaces refer to vegetation and water bodies that have the potential to improve health and human behavior, providing aesthetic spaces for relaxation, socialization and physical activity (1). Green spaces include parks, green vacant lots, vegetated streetscapes, schoolyards, greenways, urban forests and trails. Blue spaces include beaches, oceans, lakes, rivers and canals (2).
Models of these spaces have been recreated with their benefits and contributions. The main characteristics proposed for these spaces are accessibility (distance, quantity, continuity and security), aesthetics (quality of the landscape and public perception), amenities and equipment (infrastructures and vegetable gardens), management modalities (pesticides and watering), appropriation (contact, engagement and how people use the spaces), and experience (programmes, promotion, events and immersion). Another characteristic is the Usage (social interactions, relaxation and leisure, practicing physical activity, contact and engagement with nature, living environment modification, active mobility, land value, temperature regulator, pollution regulator, water regulator and carbon sequestration) (2).
The relationship between exposure to green spaces and mental health has been demonstrated in various systematic reviews with adults, children and adolescents. Studies with adults show an association between exposure to green spaces and/or outdoor nature-based interventions, and reduced symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety, and increased wellbeing. Regarding children and adolescents, systematic reviews have shown beneficial associations between the exposure and access to green spaces, and depression and anxiety symptoms, mood, mental wellbeing, cognitive development, stress, and emotional and behavioural difficulties (3).
Although poor mental health (depression and anxiety) due to unhealthy behaviours, low help seeking and having a physical health condition increases the risk of developing noncommunicable diseases, environmental exposures have also emerged as important determinants of human health since noise and air pollution have been proven contributors to the global burden of disease (1).
There is currently growing interest in studying the ways natural environments influence the development and progression of long-term health conditions. The effects of green and blue spaces on health can be summarised by three major biopsychosocial pathways: reduction in harm (capturing and limiting air pollution, noise and heat), restoring capacities (restoring attention and reducing stress), and building capacities (improving physical activity and social cohesion) (1).
In the light of the above, green and blue spaces are expected to promote a stronger mental health through a wide set of potential mechanisms. These include the reduction of the exposure to extreme temperatures or air pollution, the promotion of salutogenic behaviours such as physical activity or socialisation, and the recovery of psychological deficits, including attention fatigue, stress, anxiety and bad humour (4).
- Geneshka M, Coventry P, Cruz J, Gilbody S. Relationship between Green and Blue Spaces with Mental and Physical Health: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Observational Studies. Int J Environ Res Public Health. January 2021;18(17):9010.
- Hunter RF, Nieuwenhuijsen M, Fabian C, Murphy N, O’Hara K, Rappe E, et al. Advancing urban green and blue space contributions to public health. Lancet Public Health. 1 September 2023;8(9):e735-42.
- Bray I, Reece R, Sinnett D, Martin F, Hayward R. Exploring the role of exposure to green and blue spaces in preventing anxiety and depression among young people aged 14–24 years living in urban settings: A systematic review and conceptual framework. Environ Res. 1 November 2022;214:114081.
- M SP, G GB, A FS, I R, L G, Jm DS, et al. Social inequalities, green and blue spaces and mental health in 6-12 years old children participating in the INMA cohort. Health Place [Internet]. September 2023 [cited 11 October 2023];83. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37611380/.
Mónica Miriam García Cuéllar
Master’s Degree in Public Health and Health Promotion
OSMAN Scientific Editor