BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Need a pick-me-up? Try a park-me-up. A study by researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham finds that spending 20 minutes in a park or green space makes the average person happier.

What’s more, it didn’t matter whether you were sitting on a bench just passing the time or playing frisbee with a friend. The boost of happiness occurred whether an individual engaged in physical activity while at the park or not.

“Overall, we found park visitors reported an improvement in emotional well-being after the park visit,” says principal investigator Dr. Hon K. Yuen, professor in the UAB Department of Occupational Therapy, in a media release. “However, we did not find levels of physical activity are related to improved emotional well-being. Instead, we found time spent in the park is related to improved emotional well-being.”

Researchers say that urban parks provide city residents opportunities to experience nature and engage in many types of activities, some involving exercise, some not. Between the contact with the natural environment and engaging in health-promoting or social and recreational activities, parks allow visitors to experience physical and mental health benefits like stress reduction or recovery from mental fatigue and burnout.

For the study, the researchers recruited 94 adults to visit three urban parks in Mountain Brook, Alabama: Overton, Jemison, and Cahaba River Walk Parks. The locations were selected because they were three major public parks in Mountain Brook and each had a high volume of visitors every day.

Despite the smaller sample size, study co-author Gavin R. Jenkins says that the positive results among participants still show just how important green spaces are, particularly in cities. The positive effects are reason enough for leaders to push for conservation and even expansions of public parks.

“There is increasing pressure on green space within urban settings,” says Jenkins. “Planners and developers look to replace green space with residential and commercial property. The challenge facing cities is that there is an increasing evidence about the value of city parks but we continue to see the demise of theses spaces.”

The study was published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research.

About Ben Renner

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