Can spending time in our parks, woodlands and beaches improve the mental health of Wales?

 

A new study by a collaboration led by Swansea University Medical School will investigate whether spending time in green and blue spaces, such as parks and beaches, can have a positive effect on our long-term wellbeing and mental health.

Mental health and wellbeing problems are a growing public concern.  One in four people experience a mental health condition such as anxiety and depression at some time in their lives. Mental health problems cost the UK economy over £100 billion a year.

A growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to green and blue spaces may benefit mental health and wellbeing. Now, the NIHR is investing in a collaboration who will explore whether green and blue spaces, such as parks and beaches, can have a positive effect on our long-term wellbeing and mental health.

The collaboration includes experts from Swansea University, the University of Exeter, Cardiff University and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. This new funding will enable researchers to take a large-scale population approach, considering the majority of Wales’ environment and population, and changes over time.

The team of academics will work with partners from Natural Resources Wales, Keep Wales Tidy, Sports Wales, City and County of Swansea, and Welsh Government. Researchers will gather health and environment data and link them in a databank based at Swansea University (saildatabank.com). The Secure Anonymised Information Linkage databank (SAIL), is a world-class system that brings data together in a secure, trusted and confidential way. The team will consider how abundance and accessibility of different types of green and blue spaces relate to mental health and wellbeing benefits for different people.

Researchers will look at data for 1.7 million people in Wales to explore how people change their use of health services, such as their general practitioner, as their local environment changes. Because the effects of green and blue spaces take time to change health, the team will use historical data with statistical methods to assess the effects over the past decade.

Dr Sarah Rodgers, Associate Professor at Swansea University Medical School, is leading the team.  She said: “The 24,000 people who annually respond to the National Survey for Wales tell us how often they visit green or blue spaces, where they went, what they did, and report on their wellbeing. We will test whether people who more frequently visit green and blue spaces report better wellbeing. We will be able to explore, for example, if people report better wellbeing in greener areas because they visit green and blue spaces more often and engage in more physical activity compared to those living in less green areas.”

Dr Ben Wheeler, leading the University of Exeter team involved in the project, said “This approach, using a ‘natural experiment’, and working across a collaboration of organisations, will allow us to produce very robust and useful evidence. This will help us to understand the potential ‘win-win’ of actions to improve and protect of both the environment and public health”.


Notes for editors:

Swansea University Medical School is a UK top-ten Medical School offering a comprehensive portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate courses spanning medicine, physician associate studies, health and life sciences to meet tomorrow’s science and healthcare challenges.  Since its beginnings as a newly established Medical School in 2004, it has seen exceptional development from the growth of its Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) programme to building Wales’ premier health and life sciences research facilities in the Institute of Life Science (ILS), Centre for NanoHealth and Data Science Building.

2014 saw the Research Excellence Framework place Swansea University Medical School equal first in the UK for the quality of its research environment and second for overall research quality. In 2016, it became the first department in Swansea University to win Athena SWAN Silver recognition for its work to promote women in science careers. These developments together with significant investment from external funding organisations, and rising student satisfaction have led to the Medical School rising to third in the UK in the Complete University Guide 2017 and  to UK top ten rankings in a range of in other independent guides.

Find out more about the history of the Medical School

Find out more about the Medical School’s success in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework.

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http://www.swansea.ac.uk/medicine

 

SAIL

SAIL stands for Secure Anonymised Information Linkage. SAIL is a Wales-wide research resource focused on improving health, well-being and services. Its databank of anonymised data about the population is world recognised. SAIL receives core funding from the Welsh Government’s Health and Care Research Wales. A range of anonymised, person-based datasets are held in SAIL and, subject to safeguards and approvals, these can be anonymously linked together to address important research questions. www.saildatabank.com.

The SAIL team are based in The Data Science Building at Swansea University is a world-class and state-of-the-art research facility to enhance research collaboration, innovation, and professional training and development in population data science. The £8 million building, an addition to the School of Medicine, is based at Swansea University’s Singleton Park Campus and part of the Campus Development Programme. The Data Science Building was made possible by the funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the Welsh Government.

 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Established by the Department of Health, the NIHR:

         funds high quality research to improve health

         trains and supports health researchers

         provides world-class research facilities

         works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all

         involves patients and the public at every step

 

For further information, visit the NIHR website www.nihr.ac.uk


Swansea University Medical School researchers, students and staff involved:

  • Dr Sarah Rodgers
  • Dr Richard Fry
  • Professor Damon Berridge
  • Professor Ronan Lyons
  • Mrs Amy Mizen
  • Mrs Liz Irvine

Exeter University

Cardiff University

Barcelona Institute of Global Health