People who commute -- walking or cycling -- through natural environments are more likely to develop better mental health than those who commute less, according to a new study.
Natural environments included all public and private outdoor spaces that contain 'green' and/or 'blue' natural elements such as street trees, forests, city parks and natural parks/reserves and all types of water bodies.
"Mental health and physical inactivity are two of the main public health problems associated with the life in urban environments. Urban design could be a powerful tool to confront these challenges and create healthier cities. One way of doing so would be investing in natural commuting routes for cycling and walking," said Mark Nieuwenhuijsen from the University of Barcelona.
For the study, published in the journal, Environment International, the research team examined nearly 3,600 participants who answered a questionnaire about their commuting habits and their mental health.
The findings showed that respondents commuting through natural environments on a daily basis had on average a 2.74 point higher mental health score compared to those who commuted through natural environments less frequently.
This association was even stronger among people who reported active commuting, the team said.
"From previous experimental studies we knew that physical activity in natural environments can reduce stress, improve mood and mental restoration when compared to the equivalent activity in urban environments," said first author Wilma Zijlema from the varsity.
"Although this study is the first of its kind to our knowledge and, therefore, more research will be needed, our data show that commuting through these natural spaces alone may also have a positive effect on mental health."