Seaside stroll or woodland walk – which is healthiest?
Many of us feel better after a walk in the countryside or a breath of fresh air. But now scientists in Cornwall hope to find out which natural environment is best for our health.
A £200,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council has been awarded to the European Centre for Environment and Human Health – part of the University of Exeter Medical School in Truro.
It will draw on expertise from the centre's leading academics to analyse how different types and qualities of natural environment can impact on human health and wellbeing.
The team will also analyse if impacts vary according to whether people live in towns and cities or the countryside, and whether they can have different effects according to socioeconomic status.
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Dr Ben Wheeler, the leading academic on the project, said: "When assessing the consequences of interacting with the natural environment, research has tended to lump all of the different types together.
"We're hoping that this study will allow us to unpick the potentially beneficial characteristics of different environments, so that we can maximise their potential and preserve their quality."
The focus has fallen on understanding how natural environments can help to support good health and wellbeing, with research exploring the effects natural spaces can have both physically and mentally.
Previous studies have tended to consider the wider environment, regardless of type, variety or quality. This study will be using secondary data that have already been collected from sources such as household surveys and the UK Census.
Along with national data, the project will work with the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to develop a local case study.
The research team will also be working closely with organisations such as Natural England, Forest Research and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to gain a first-hand insight into the effects of different natural surroundings.
The collaboration will help to ensure the research has direct relevance to environmental policies at a local and national level.
Victoria Whitehouse, head of nature conservation at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said the charity was "looking forward to working with the centre on this project".
She added: "Our role will be to make sure that the research is locally applicable and benefits both our own organisation and others."