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How forest bathing in cities could improve adolescents' mental health

A first-of-its-kind study quantifies how urban design features affect adolescents’ mental health

The researchers emphasise that as urbanisation is rapidly increasing, it’s crucial to better understand how this affects youth’s health.(Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 28.02.2024  |  04:37 PM IST

A new study shows that adolescents’ mental health in urban environments significantly improves when more nature is included in the city design. It suggests that forest bathing, the simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees and observing nature while breathing deeply, can help them de-stress and improve their well-being.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Waterloo, is the first-of-its-kind study that quantifies how urban and architectural design features impact adolescents’ mental health. It was also the first to collect on-site, real-time survey data from adolescents about their emotional responses to different urban environments such as a transit hub, residential streets, trails, parks, and waterways, the university’s press statement elaborated.

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The findings showed that natural urban spaces were consistently linked to significantly higher scores in positive outcomes. "While the findings may not be surprising to most people, what's significant is that for the first time, we're able to specifically say this is how much anxiety is reduced when kids are by a park as opposed to by a city centre," study author Leia Minaker said in the statement.

After being around an urban lake for just two or three minutes, adolescents’ scores on a validated anxiousness scale decreased by 9%. Meanwhile, their anxiousness scores were 13% higher when standing in a busy location for the same length of time. The findings were published in the journal Cities & Health.

The researchers emphasise that as urbanisation is rapidly increasing, it’s crucial to better understand how this affects youth’s health, specifically during a time when depression and anxiety are among the leading causes of illness among adolescents.

The findings show that planners, city builders, and healthcare providers could make use of the data to pursue specific natural urban design features. "Teens are frequently excluded from any kind of decision about the cities they live in," Minaker added in the statement. "It's important to get their opinions and quantify their experiences because childhood experiences influence many long-term health and disease outcomes."

Previous studies have also shown strong links between nature and mental health. For instance, a October 2021 study, published in the journal People and Nature, showed that children who spend plenty of time outdoors have better mental and emotional health than those who don't.

These studies highlight the importance of considering health and sustainability for all age groups while designing cities.

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