Role of physical activity in the relationship between urban green space and health

E. A. Richardson, J. Pearce, R. Mitchell, S. Kingham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Local availability of green space has been associated with a wide range of health benefits. Possible causative mechanisms underpinning the green space and health relationship include the provision of physical activity opportunities, the stress-relieving effects of nature and the facilitation of social contacts. We sought to investigate whether urban green space was related to individual-level health outcomes, and whether physical activity levels were likely to be a mediating factor in any relationships found.

Study design
Cross-sectional analysis of anonymised individual health survey responses.

Neighbourhood-level green space availability was linked to 8157 respondents to the New Zealand Health Survey 2006/07, on the basis of their place of residence. Adjusted multi-level models were constructed for four health outcomes which are plausibly related to green space via physical activity: cardiovascular disease, overweight, poor general health and poor mental health (‘SF-36’; 36-item short-form health survey).

The greenest neighbourhoods had the lowest risks of poor mental health (odds ratio (OR) 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 to 1.00). Cardiovascular disease risk was reduced in all neighbourhoods with >15% green space availability (e.g., OR 0.80, 95% CI 0.64 to 0.99, for those with 33-70% green space) but the relationship was not dose-response. Green space availability was not related to overweight or poor general health. Overall physical activity levels were higher in greener neighbourhoods, but adjustment for this only slightly attenuated the green space and health relationships.

Neighbourhood green space was related to better cardiovascular and mental health in a New Zealand health survey, independently of individual risk factors. Although physical activity was higher in greener neighbourhoods it did not fully explain the green space and health relationship.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-324
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2013


  • green space, New Zealand, physical activity, cardiovascular disease, mental health

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