Contact with nature cuts loneliness by up to 28%, study finds

Feeling alone? Get outside! Contact with nature in cities can reduce feelings of loneliness by up to 28%, study finds

  • Loneliness is considered a major public health problem increasing death risk
  • Now researchers used an app to track people’s real time feelings of loneliness 
  • They collected dats from hundreds of volunteers living in cities around the world
  • They found people felt more lonely when they also felt overcrowded in a city 

Getting outside and enjoying nature can reduce feelings of loneliness by up to 28 per cent in city dwellers, according to a new study.

Loneliness is considered a major public health problem, and research has revealed it can increase the risk of death by more than air pollution and obesity.

In a new study, experts collected data from people living in cities around the world using the Urban Mind app, which prompts volunteers to answer questions on loneliness, overcrowding, the natural environment, and social inclusion. 

They found that people felt more lonely when they also felt overcrowded, but if they could see trees or the sky then those lonely feelings dropped by 28 per cent.

The team from Kings College London, that led this study, said natural places in cities can reduce feelings of loneliness by enhancing feelings of attachment to a place. 

Getting outside and enjoying nature can reduce feelings of loneliness by up to 28 per cent in city dwellers, according to a new study. Stock image

WHAT IS URBAN MIND? 

Urban Mind is an app that measures your experience of urban and rural living in the moment.

By collecting real-time data, the team from Kings College London hope to be able to understand how different aspects of the urban environment affect mental wellbeing. 

‘We hope that the results will inform future urban planning and social policy aimed at improving design & health,’ they said in an explanation.

It is a research project by King’s College London, landscape architects J&L Gibbons and arts foundation Nomad Projects. 

This is the first study into loneliness that uses ‘real time data’ from an app, rather than asking questions after an event happened. 

When people feel included in their community, that also cut feelings of loneliness by 21 per cent, and if they were also in nature, that was boosted by another 18 per cent.

Prof Andrea Mechelli, study author, told The Guardian: ‘There can be aspects such as natural features and social inclusivity which can actually decrease loneliness.’ 

‘People experience different levels of loneliness throughout the day depending on their surrounding environment,’ the researchers wrote.

The study involved 756 volunteers who filled in more than 16,000 assessments on their mental health and wellbeing between April 2018 and March 2020.

Even after adjusting for age, gender, ethnicity, education and occupation, the link between lower levels of loneliness and nature remained, and increased.

‘The feeling of loneliness changes in relation to both social and environmental factors,’ the team behind the study wrote. 

‘Our findings have potential implications for public health strategies and interventions aimed at reducing the burden of loneliness on society.

‘Specific measures, which would increase social inclusion and contact with nature while reducing overcrowding, should be implemented, especially in densely populated cities.’

Christopher Gidlow, an expert in applied health from Staffordshire University, not involved in the study, told the Guardian that link to natural environments and improved social interactions have long been recognised.

‘This study adds further weight to existing evidence of our affinity for natural environments and the potential benefits for social wellbeing,’ he said.

Loneliness is considered a major public health problem, and research has revealed it can increase the risk of death by more than air pollution and obesity. Stock image

‘Familiarity with environments was not measured, but is likely to be at play as people tend to visit the same natural environments. Such familiarity has been linked with feeling more connected to a place, with possible mental health benefits.’

‘In light of the well-established link between loneliness and physical and mental health, including mortality, our findings have potential implications for public health strategies,’ the authors of the study wrote in their paper. 

‘Specifically, enhancing and preserving green spaces and improving walkability could help reduce the burden of loneliness in areas with high population density.’

The findings have been published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO DIE OF LONELINESS

Research suggests it is possible to ‘die of loneliness’.

A major study published March 2018 suggested social isolation can increase the chance of a stroke by 39 per cent and premature death by 50 per cent.

Loneliness may raise the risk of a heart attack by more than 40 per cent, researchers found.

The analysis was based on the health records of 480,000 Britons — making it the largest study of its kind.

Those who already had cardiovascular problems were far more likely to die early if they were isolated, suggesting the importance of family and friends in aiding recovery.

The research team, which included British academics, said lonely people had a higher rates of chronic diseases and smoking and showed more symptoms of depression.

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