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Healing gardens for healthpromotion

(Vienna 3rd July 2012) The design and landscaping of hospital green areas in accordance with the needs of patients, visitors and staff can have a health-promoting effect. These are the key findings of a study by the MedUni Vienna, led by Renate Cervinka from the Institute of Environmental Health at the Centre for Public Health. Involved in the study were the representatives of three hospitals in Lower Austria, whose local hospital gardens were the subject of an environmental psychological and landscapeplanning analysis. A further result of the study: “The more natural the garden, the greater the positive experience,” says Cervinka.  

“The gardens and green spaces of a hospital should be regarded as a counterbalance to the hospital itself,” explains the environmental and health psychologist. “The garden is perceived as a natural contrast to the hospital – it serves as a place of sanctuary and recuperation." This is also confirmed by the study: green, very natural landscaped gardens came closest to the ideal hospital garden imagined by the 411 potential patients who participated anonymously in the study administered online.

This result also echoes the findings of earlier studies: as far back as 1984, Roger Ulrich discovered that a view from the hospital room overlooking green spaces has more of a “healing” effect than a view of a concrete wall. Patients with a view of green space spent less time in the hospital, were generally more happy with their care and required less pain-relieving medication.

Just three minutes in the garden can have positive effects
“Deep breathing in a green space for just three minutes can have a positive effect,” says study co-author Kathrin Röderer. “Asmoking break is firmly entrenched in modern life, however a 'mental' break isn't, unfortunately.”

This break has even more impact the more the gardens and places of sanctuary are tailored to the needs of their users. “At a general hospital, for example, where patients do not stay for very long, even a view of the appropriately-landscaped green space can have a health-promoting effect. For other groups, such as patients undergoing orthopaedic rehabilitation, it is more important that the gardens can also be enjoyed while using walking aids, for example. Long-term patients, such as geriatric or psychiatric patients, particularly benefit from activities involving gardening, e.g. garden therapy.” The authors also recommend sheltered green areas for hospital personnel for stress coping.

“The proven therapeutic effect should also counteract the trend towards regarding green spaces as purely storage areas, parking lots or potential building plots,” says Cervinka. “The value of nature is incalculable. Its worth is priceless.” With this in mind, the study authors also point out how crucial it is to preserve large, old trees when carrying out extensions and conversions: “Trees have a very important role to play in recovering from stress and in mental health. They are easily felled, however they take a long time to grow.”

On the basis of the study findings, a checklist has been developed that can be used to create the ideal design for hospital gardens - with the aim of lifting the mood of their users, promoting their wellbeing and increasing the gardens’ proximity to nature to use all benefits best a natural setting offers to us.