Research data from a representative sample of the Austrian population indicates that the connection between spending time in nature and feeling good is consistently stronger for individuals with lower incomes compared to those with higher incomes.
However, this correlation was only evident among people who actively engaged with nature, not those who merely resided near green spaces. The findings suggest that the availability, accessibility, and utilization of green and blue spaces may play a crucial role in mitigating health disparities associated with income. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Vienna in collaboration with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, was recently published in the journal Health & Place.
Individuals with lower incomes face a heightened risk of experiencing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. One effective strategy to promote both mental and physical well-being is through contact with nature. Spending time in natural environments has been linked to reduced stress levels, enhanced immune function, improved cognitive abilities, better sleep, and increased overall life satisfaction. However, these positive associations do not seem to apply universally.
As part of a research initiative supported by Austrian and European funding agencies, a survey was conducted involving 2,300 individuals across Austria, selected to be representative in terms of age, gender, and geographic region. The results indicate that while individuals with higher incomes generally reported higher levels of well-being irrespective of their engagement with nature, individuals from lower-income brackets experienced significantly higher levels of well-being if they engaged with nature frequently. In fact, individuals with lower incomes who visited natural environments several times a week reported well-being levels nearly equivalent to those of the wealthiest respondents. This trend was observed across Austria as a whole, as well as among residents of urban Vienna.
Lead author and doctoral student Leonie Fian from the University of Vienna summarizes the findings by highlighting that the well-being benefits associated with weekly visits to nature throughout the year are comparable to the benefits of a yearly increase in income of €1,000.
Notably, these associations were only evident for active engagement with nature and were not observed based on the amount of greenery surrounding individuals’ homes. Thus, individuals’ activities appeared to be more influential than their residential locations. From a public health standpoint, it is imperative to both develop greener neighborhoods and natural recreational areas and ensure their accessibility and utilization, particularly among socioeconomically disadvantaged groups.
Arne Arnberger from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna emphasizes the importance of providing information about appealing nearby natural recreation areas and their accessibility via public transportation, especially for individuals with lower incomes. These areas should be easily reachable by public transport, particularly on weekends. #Nature #WellBeing #HealthEquity #Research #Austria.