Data from a representative sample of the Austrian population suggests that the relationship between nature contact and well-being is consistently stronger for people on lower than higher incomes. However, this pattern was only found when people actively visited nature and not when they merely lived near greenspaces. Findings suggest the availability, accessibility and use of green and blue spaces can play an important role in reducing income-related health inequalities. The study was led by researchers of the University of Vienna in collaboration with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna and was recently published in the journal Health & Place.
People on low incomes are at a particularly high risk of suffering from mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. One way to promote good mental and physical health is through nature contact. Time spent in nature is associated with reduced stress levels, better immune functioning, improved cognitive functioning, better sleep and greater life satisfaction. However, these associations do not seem to be the same for everyone.
As part of a study funded by Austrian and European funding agencies, researchers surveyed 2.300 individuals across Austria representative on age, gender and region. The findings suggest that while people with higher incomes generally reported higher well-being, regardless of how often they visited nature, well-being among the poorest in society was much higher among those who visited nature often. In fact, poorer individuals who visited several times a week had well-being levels nearly as high as the richest respondents. This pattern was clearly shown for both Austria as a whole and for those living in urban Vienna.
"What the results show is that the well-being benefits from visiting nature at least once a week across the whole year are similar to those from an increase in 1,000 Euros of income per year," summarises doctoral student and lead author Leonie Fian from the University of Vienna.
What you do is more important than where you live
Interestingly, these associations were only found for actively visiting nature, but not for the amount of greenness around people's homes. In other words, what people did, appeared more important than where they lived. From a public health perspective, it is therefore important to both create greener neighbourhoods and natural recreation areas, and to ensure that they are accessible and used, especially by socio-economically disadvantaged groups.
"Especially for people on lower incomes, information about attractive natural recreation areas nearby and their accessibility by public transport plays an important role. They should therefore also be easily accessible by public transport at weekends," says Arne Arnberger from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna.
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