Human health and wellbeing Research Theme
Exploring, understanding, and determining those aspects of nature which directly contribute to improvements in physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Nature recovery is embedded in a wider socio-economic context which includes both its direct and often beneficial impacts on both physical and mental human wellbeing. In this theme we examine which specific aspects of nature recovery are needed in order to maximize the benefits that nature can provide to human health and wellbeing.
A rapidly growing literature shows that physical and mental health is greatly improved by access to green space. However, a significant knowledge gap remains: which aspects of nature are responsible for the association between green space and health? To what extent is it a combination of vegetation shapes, colours, sounds such as elevated songbird and reduced traffic noise, density of biomass, or even the smell emitted by different plant volatile organic compounds? A plethora of studies have been published in the past decade on these various aspects of nature that all trigger physiological and psychological responses when we interact with them but usually these are studies carried out in a clinical setting with a small number of participants. This new theme aims to move these experiments into real-life situations with randomised control trials (RCTs) to tease apart which aspects of nature align most closely with aspects of enhanced physical and mental human well-being. Specifically, a new set of new methodological approaches are being developed that links ecology and neurosciences and NGOs working in this space across Oxford, to understand the exact mechanisms involved, providing novel and quantitative understanding of exactly what types of natural landscape provide most benefits to mental health and well-being.
In addition to field experiment experiments and clinical trials we will be using new big-data approaches that harvest social media to provide novel understanding of how people interact with and benefit from nature. In this theme we aim to develop novel and quantified estimates of the health and wellbeing aspects of nature and use this information to design nature recovery strategies that also maximise its health benefits.
An investigation into the impact of different measures of vegetation cover and characteristics in urban areas on mental health in Birmingham
This was a desk-based project using the exceptional tree-data and greenspace data sets from Birmingham City along with the Small Area Mental Health Index to determine which aspect of nature are associated with the most positive mental health outcomes.
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