Using green and blue spaces will benefit both your physical and mental health

  • Using green and blue spaces benefits people’s physical and mental health
  • Green and blue spaces should be protected, maintained and integrated in health, planning and other social and economic development policy.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) will launch the key findings from jointly-funded research projects on the benefits of green and blue spaces to health and wellbeing at a joint Webinar today.

Ireland’s green and blue spaces are essential components of Ireland’s health infrastructure and include urban parks, coasts, lakes and rivers, forests and bogs. The research launched today has found that using green and blue spaces benefits people’s physical and mental health. Such benefits include increasing physical activity, enhancing mental wellbeing and providing spaces for social interaction. Findings highlight that green and blue spaces should be protected, maintained and integrated in health, planning and other social and economic development policy.

Laura Burke, Director-General, Environmental Protection Agency said,
“Research has an important role to play in establishing how human health can be enhanced by a healthy environment. The research launched today is particularly relevant and timely during the on-going Covid-19 crisis as people focus on making the most of the natural environment in their local areas. It shows that access to green and blue spaces benefit people’s health and wellbeing.  Establishing a knowledge base on the link between our health and our environment, can support the development of policies to protect our essential blue and green spaces.”

Dr. Stephanie O’Keefe, Health Service Executive said:
“Our health and our environment are hugely interconnected. COVID-19 has brought this reality into stark relief. These excellent research projects increase our understanding of the importance of green and blue space for our health and wellbeing. The research also highlights that access to good quality green and blue space is not equal for all. The HSE’s ongoing collaboration with the EPA is important as we strive to protect and improve human health and wellbeing, and therefore the spaces and places in which we live. Developing a strong evidence base to target improvements is part of this.”

Joint funding to a value of around €0.6 million was awarded to three research studies in 2016 to support the implementation of Healthy Ireland, the national framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Ireland. The following research reports were launched today:

  • GBI-Health: Green and Blue Spaces and Health: A Health-led Approach – Led by Dr Ronan Foley in Maynooth University – focusing on health-date aspects.
  • Eco-Health: Ecosystem Benefits of Greenspace for Health – Led by Professor Mark Foley in University College Dublin – focusing on Design/Planning aspects.
  • NEAR-Health: Nature and Environment to Attain and Restore Health – Led by Dr Caitriona Carlin in National University of Ireland, Galway – focusing on the relations between green & blue spaces, nature and communities

An additional project, also co-funded by the EPA and HSE, looking at evaluating health benefits derived from green and blue spaces, was carried out by the ESRI and its findings will be presented by Dr Gianluca Grilli during the Webinar.

Speaking at the Webinar today Dr Jonathan Derham, Environmental Protection Agency said:
“Research is needed at a national and local level to provide evidence for decisions and investment by government and others to protect and develop green and blues spaces, so they can deliver for the health and wellbeing of the population. There is a high value in ongoing research and in providing insights and information that can better inform policy and planning. We need to monitor usage to improve data and understanding of the contribution to health and wellbeing. A well-managed network of green and blue spaces contributes to our quality of life and health, but also helps Ireland meet its European and international obligations and future-proof the country.”

Further EPA-HSE co-funded research (to a value of around €1.2 million) is currently on-going on the topics of linkages between Health and Air Quality and Noise, as well as on Antimicrobial Resistance. These projects are due for completion in 2021-2022.

EPA Research Programme:
The EPA Research Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

EPA Research Reports are available as follows:

Healthy Ireland:

Healthy Ireland is a government-led initiative aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of everyone living in Ireland. More information available online.

The aims of this co-funding initiative between the EPA and HSE were to:

  • develop national capacity in this important area,
  • generate data and make assessments of priority policy issues for Ireland; and,
  • mobilise this knowledge for use in environment and health protection, together with the promotion of health and wellbeing.

GBI-Health project
Using innovative Geographic Information Systems (GIS), spatial modelling and statistical analysis, GBI-Health identified evidence for direct positive relationships between the presence of green and blue spaces and a number of health indicators, including self-reported health, mortality and disability, with additional mediation for deprivation. The health indicators used in the study were focused on publicly available data at a range of aggregated spatial scales, from small area up to county level. In addition, the project provides a critical data audit on both barriers to and positive suggestions on ways to develop a fuller public evidence base for area-based health research. The findings will inform a number of national agencies and service providers, including the HSE, the Department of Health and the cross-departmental Healthy Ireland initiative.

Eco-Health project
Building on this spatial and geographic analysis, the Eco-Health project focused on how integrating health and environmental policy can advance the concept of ‘healthy places’. From the perspective of spatial planning, healthy places are increasingly espoused internationally and nationally. By enhancing the provision and design of green spaces, local authorities and public agencies can contribute towards key objectives within the National Planning Framework (2018) relating to healthy communities, compact growth and sustainable land-use management. However, while such policy guidance clearly supports an emphasis on green space provision for population health and wellbeing, it does not provide detailed guidance for planning and design policy in terms of the specific attributes required to tackle lifestyle illnesses in multiple cohorts. Eco-Health aims to address this gap.

NEAR Health project
The NEAR Health project demonstrates to state agencies, regulators and policy makers the role of blue and green spaces in enhancing ecosystem and human health and resilience. Through focusing on ‘sustainable living’, the NEAR Health project advances a healthy future framework to contribute to national priorities identified in the National Planning Framework (e.g. sustainable communities), National Biodiversity Action Plan Targets (e.g. Target 3.1), and linking these to specific health policies, including: A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016–2025, the National Physical Activity Plan; Sharing the Vision: A Mental Health Policy for Everyone; Connecting for Life (national suicide strategy); Social Inclusion and Community Activation Programme, and National Countryside Recreation Strategy, including Leave No Trace. The project demonstrates the value of citizen science approaches within existing outdoor activities, e.g. to connect the National Physical Activity Plan with monitoring schemes run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

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