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Positive health effects of the natural outdoor environment in typical populations in different regions in Europe (PHENOTYPE)

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The health benefits of close contact with the outdoors

EU-funded research has explored the interconnections between exposure to natural outdoor environments (rural and urban settings) and better health and well-being. The work focused on different European regions and on different population groups, with implications for community-level solutions for improved quality of life.

Health

The aim of the project PHENOTYPE (Positive health effects of the natural outdoor environment in typical populations in different regions in Europe (PHENOTYPE)) was to provide solid evidence as well as guidelines on how our environment can affect our health. Fieldwork was conducted in four countries – Spain, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. To develop a suitable conceptual framework, PHENOTYPE adapted a modified version of the Drivers Pressures State Exposure Effects Actions (DPSEEA) model. This accounted for factors like attractiveness, ecosystem services, green space, health, natural environments and well-being. The team collected data for physical activity assessment, conducted surveys on natural environments, and compiled database information on natural health outcomes. Research showed that long-term exposure to green space generally affords beneficial health effects, including: lower rates of premature mortality, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems in adults; a reduction in blood pressure in adults and pregnant women; and a reduction in obesity and sedentary behaviour, increase in birth weight and improved cognitive functioning in children. Also, lower socioeconomic groups appear to gain more benefits, and findings point to surrounding greenness being more beneficial than accessing green spaces farther away. Short-term exposure to green space also has beneficial effects such as mood improvement and reducing stress levels. It was also shown to help with physical rehabilitation following cardiovascular disease episodes. The exact role of type and amount of green space needed has not been clarified. Although health outcomes are associated with these two factors (access and amount of green space), the link is still not clear regarding health determinants (e.g. physical activity, social contacts). Based on the research results, PHENOTYPE has recommended that policymakers and professional practitioners encourage the presence of green space and also expand their approach regarding the recommended size of such spaces. The research team formulated nine key variables of the characteristics of public green spaces that define their attractiveness: ownership, size and shape, biological characteristics, functional uses, localisation, management, community identity, climate/weather and nuisances. Project work and results can be used to integrate citizens' health needs into land-use planning and green space management, and also to promote supportive policies and practices.

Keywords

Health, natural outdoor environments, well-being, PHENOTYPE, green space, cardiovascular disease

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