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Green Areas Not Only Improve Well-Being: They Also Prevent Mental Illness

MADRID, October 19 (Europe) –

The larger the green spaces in cities, the greater the well-being of citizens, as evidenced by new research published by researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

In addition, researchers have shown that people who benefit most from these green areas have reduced activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain has a central control function in processing negative emotions and stressful life experiences.

"These results suggest that green areas are particularly important for people with reduced capacity to self-regulate negative emotions. This means that green areas evenly distributed in the city can develop great potential to prevent mental illness, ”explains Andreas. Meyer-Lindenberg, one of those responsible for the investigation.

Previous studies have already shown that people who grow up and live in the city respond differently to stress from rural residents and have a much greater risk of developing depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. These studies are published at a time when urbanization is advancing rapidly. According to the United Nations, more people live in cities than in rural areas. It is estimated that by 2050 about two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities.

In this new study, 33 citizens between the ages of 18 and 28 living in cities were asked to rate their mood with specially equipped smartphones about nine times a day for a week. During this time, participants continued their usual daily routines. Consequently, the percentage of green areas in their neighborhood is determined by high resolution aerial photographs and by means of geo-information methods.

In situations where they were surrounded by more green areas in the city, participants were shown to be more prosperous. In step two, 52 other young adults were asked to rate their mood in the same way. After a seven-day evaluation phase, these participants were examined by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). This method is used to represent certain functions of the brain.

In addition, the team collected sensor data for physical activities to test people in daily life, as well as weather data. These data were then estimated using multilevel statistical models. "With our methods, it was possible to detect whether exposure to green spaces in cities directly changes people's well-being," explains another author, Marcus Reichert.

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