Health Impact

Why is Public Open Space important for physical activity and health?  

Authors: Julianna Rozek, Dr Lucy Gunn, Anna Gannet, Dr Paula Hooper, Professor Billie Giles-Corti.

Public open space supports physical activity by providing destinations to walk to  (2–4) and facilities for a wide range of activities.  (5,6) People who use green public open space are more likely than others to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.  (7–9) Other health and wellbeing benefits they provide include: 

  • Restorative landscapes for mental health 
  • Improved community cohesion 
  • Encouraging children’s active play 
  • Provision of ecosystem services 
Visitors to the Ballarat Inclusive Playspace in Victoria enjoying the Public Open Space.

Green public open spaces are particularly important for mental health. Natural landscapes provide restorative experiences, which can improve performance in attention tasks, and generate happiness and feelings of rejuvenation.  (10–12)  

Visiting green public open space in urban areas is associated with a lower likelihood of self-reported feelings of stress.  (13) A European study found that people who spent more time visiting green public open space had better mental health and vitality.  (14) This relationship was consistent across four cities, and all levels of education and socio-economic status.  (14) 

Another study in Perth, Western Australia found a link between living in neighbourhoods with high quality parks and lower psychological distress.  (15) This effect persisted regardless of whether people visited parks, or not.  (15) 

Green public open spaces provide places for social interaction, which helps build a sense of community.  (16) A positive relationship has also been found between the number of parks in the neighbourhood and collective efficacy.  (17) Collective efficacy  is similar to social capital but includes the belief that residents will act together to benefit the whole community.  (17) For further information on these broader benefits, refer to Sense of Place