The path to a greater sense of well-being may be found in your nearest park.

Researchers at King’s College in London found that being in contact with nature—particularly with exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong—was associated with higher levels of mental well-being. The investigators noted that the benefits of nature exposure were particularly noticeable in individuals who are at greater risk of mental health issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder and addiction disorders.

To determine how contact with nature affects mental well-being, the researchers developed a smartphone-based app called Urban Mind. More than 100 individuals in London used the app during a one-week period. In total, researchers collected more than 3,000 assessments, each of which prompted participants to answer a few questions about his or her location and momentary mental well-being.

The connection between nature and a positive outlook has been demonstrated in numerous studies. Time spent outdoors in a tranquil setting may help reduce stress, encourage physical activity and promote greater mindfulness of one’s surroundings.

The researchers hope not only that their findings will encourage more people to boost their mood through contact with nature, but that urban planners will use this information to design neighborhoods that include more parks and open spaces. They also note that the study is an example of how smartphone technology can be used to facilitate citizen science—a partnership between researchers and participants in real-world environments.

This article originally appeared in Mind, Mood & Memory, a publication of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, dedicated to maintaining mental fitness for middle age and beyond.

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