Natural England - New study points to positive impact of nature on mental wellbeing

New study points to positive impact of nature on mental wellbeing

4 October 2013

A new report published today has tested the commonly held theory that the natural environment is good for people’s mental wellbeing.

Called ‘Monitoring of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE): Wellbeing and the natural environment’, the reportexternal link consists of data from over 3,500 interviews conducted between May 2012-Feb 2013.

Survey participants were asked a series of questions about how and when they used the natural environment alongside standard questions around life satisfaction, happiness, and anxiety. Respondents who were regular users of the outdoors were far more likely to give positive assessments of their mental wellbeing. 

The survey

Four key questions were asked by MENE, which the Office of National Statisticsexternal link has already used to assess levels of mental wellbeing amongst the UK’s adult population:

  • Life satisfaction: Overall, how satisfied are you with life nowadays?

  • Worthwhile: Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

  • Happiness: Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?

  • Anxiety: Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?

On a scale from 0 (‘not at all’) to 10 (‘completely’), the highest levels of happiness were recorded by people who typically visit the outdoors more than once a week (mean score of 7.7) and people who take part in gardening (7.6). People who strongly agreed that they “are glad natural places existed, even if they didn’t visit them” also fell within this group recording high levels of happiness (7.7). Happiness levels are also found to be closely correlated with part time workers, ‘empty nesters’ (55+ and no children at home) and retired people with no disabilities.

In terms of people most likely to rate their life activities as “worthwhile”, the highest scores came from people who walk or cycle whenever possible, are members of an environmental organisation, and who buy seasonal or locally grown food (mean score of 8.5). Those who take part in gardening, watching wildlife and doing unpaid voluntary work also rate their activities as highly worthwhile (8.4), as do people who visit the outdoors every day (8.2). Disability, gender, lifestage and housing tenure were useful filters in showing that women in employment, living in an owned/mortgaged house, are most likely to rate their life activities as worthwhile.

Dave Stone, Deputy Chief Scientist at Natural England, said: “This wide-ranging survey adds to the growing body of evidence showing that the natural environment has a significant role to play in improving our mental wellbeing. A survey of this scale, demonstrating such a striking profile of the mental wellbeing of those using the outdoors on a regular basis, is worth taking account of.”

Visit ‘MENE: Wellbeing and the natural environmentexternal link’ to read more.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. For more information, contact: Michelle Hawkins, press officer, Natural England
0300 060 1109 / michelle.hawkins@naturalengland.org.uk

2. Key results in full

The questions ask the respondents to reply using a scale from 0 (‘not at all’) to 10 (‘completely’).  This is the same methodology as used by the ONS.

On the 0 to 10 response scale used, the following mean scores were obtained for each of the measures. Note that figures in parenthesis indicate the mean score for group in question.

a) Life satisfaction: Overall, how satisfied are you with life nowadays? – total population average 7.3

Levels of life satisfaction were found to be closely correlated to an individual’s working status with significantly higher satisfaction amongst people in education or retired but the lowest levels amongst unemployed people. In terms of engagement with the natural environment the highest values were recorded amongst the following population groups.

  • Those who had visited the outdoors once a month or more often in the last 12 months (7.4).

  •  Those who strongly agreed that spending time out of doors is important (7.5).

  • Those who took part in gardening, watching wildlife and unpaid voluntary work (8.0).

  • Those who bought seasonal or locally grown food, were a member of an environmental or conservation organisation, and walked or cycled whenever possible (8.2).

b) Worthwhile: Overall, to what extent do you feel that the things you do in your life are worthwhile? – total population average 7.6

This measure of wellbeing was also found to be most closely correlated to an individual’s working status, with the lowest levels recorded amongst unemployed people and those in education. Disability, gender, lifestage and housing tenure were also found to be related to this measure with women in employment who live in an owned/mortgaged house most likely to rate their life activities as worthwhile. In terms of engagement with the natural environment, levels recorded for the worthwhile measure were highest amongst the following population groups.

  • Those who visited the outdoors every day (8.2).

  • Those who strongly agreed that spending time out of doors is important (7.9).

  • Those who took part in gardening, watching wildlife and unpaid voluntary work (8.4).

  • Those who bought seasonal or locally grown food, were a member of an environmental organisation, and walked or cycled whenever possible (8.5).

  • People who believed that they already do enough to protect the natural environment (7.9).

c) Happiness: Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday? – total population average 7.4

Happiness was also found to be closely correlated to an individual’s working status with part time workers and retired people reporting the highest happiness levels, while those not working or in education reported the lowest levels. Disability and lifestage were also related to this measure with people in the empty nester lifestage (55+ and no children at home), working part time or retired with no disabilities reporting the highest levels of happiness. In terms of engagement with the natural environment, happiness levels were highest amongst the following population groups.

  • People who typically visited the outdoors more than once a week (7.7).

  • People who strongly agreed that they are glad natural places existed even if they didn’t visit them (7.7).

  • People who took part in gardening (7.6).

  • People who bought seasonal or locally grown food (7.6).

d) Anxiety: Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday? – total population average 2.8

Unlike the other wellbeing measures, anxiety is most closely related to housing tenure with those people who own their home outright generally being least anxious, while people who rent their accommodation were most anxious. This measure is also related to disability, lifestage and age. Overall the population group with the lowest levels of anxiety was the Family or Empty Nester lifestages (Note 1) with no long-term illness or disability who owned their home outright. In terms of engagement with the natural environment, levels of anxiety were lower amongst the following population groups.

  • People who visited the outdoors at least once a month (2.6).

  • People who strongly agreed that they were glad natural places existed even if they didn’t visit them (2.5).

  • People who took part in gardening, watching wildlife and watching/listening to nature programmes (2.2).

  • People who recycled, walked or cycled whenever possible and bought seasonal or locally grown food (2.3).

  • People who already believed that they do enough to protect the natural environment and/or liked their lifestyle as it was (2.5).

3. Background to the MENE survey

Set up in 2009, the MENE survey was first commissioned by Natural England, Defraexternal link and the Forestry Commissionexternal link to provide baseline and trend data on how people use the natural environment in England. The survey work is undertaken by TNSexternal link.

The survey examines the type of destinations visited, the duration of visits, transport used during visits, the distance travelled, average amounts spent, main activities undertaken, and motivations for visiting. It collects data about people who do not visit the natural environment as well, and the reasons for this. The survey also compiles information about how people interact with nature in other ways, such as watching wildlife and volunteering. The survey is undertaken weekly across England and interviews around 45,000 people per year – giving valuable insights into how people enjoy the outdoors.

Overall, the MENE survey makes an important contribution to the evidence base informing Natural England’s ‘Outdoor Learning Programme’ and its other Access and Engagement projects. Natural England publishes regular specialist MENE reports – often in partnership with relevant specialist organisations – researching the relationship between different sectors of society and the natural environment.

(Note 1) See Appendix 1 in the ‘MENE: Wellbeing and the natural environment’ report for an explanation of the lifestage groupings.




 

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