Why a visit to a park may boost your students' brainpower

Exposure to greenery rather than city activity boosts mood, memory

Simply taking a stroll through a park may boost mental health and memory, according to a study from the University of Exeter Medical School in Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers examined British Household Panel Survey data from a five-year period on 1,000 individuals who recently moved to either a more- or less-green urban area. They found those who moved to a neighborhood with more plants immediately experienced an uptick in mental health and sustained that improvement for three years. Conversely, study participants who transitioned to a less-green area reported a short-term drop in metal health, even when adjusting for factors including personality, education, employment, and income.

"These findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities," says author Ian Alcock.

Taking your class for a walk may boost communication, wellbeing

The report supports findings from a prior study at the University of Michigan, for which student participants walked through an urban arboretum and then completed a memory and mood quiz—scoring higher than their counterparts who did the same but traveled city streets instead. A week later, the two groups switched walking routes. Again, the group taking the greener path performed better.

One explanation, say the researchers, may be that action on the streets—such as staying alert around cars—prevents people from being able to "rest our attention."

A Drexel University faculty team from the School of Public Health and Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is currently examining ways to better integrate natural systems into urban ones in an attempt to improve population health.

The school is one of 11 members of the American Institute of Architects Design & Health Research Consortium. As part of Drexel's projects, a new playground, three community gardens, and a walking program will be implemented and studied in a West Philadelphia neighborhood.

"There is growing evidence linking the natural environment to human health," says Yvonne Michael, an associate professor, adding, "It has been shown to affect our cardiovascular, respiratory, mental and overall self-reported health" (Ericson, Medical Daily, 1/6/2014; University of Exeter release, 1/6/2014; Romero, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/12; Benfield, "Switchboard," NRDC, 4/23/2014).

The takeaway: Greener neighborhoods may result in happier students, according to a new study.

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