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Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2013 Mar 26;10(4):1250-67. doi: 10.3390/ijerph10041250.

The influence of urban natural and built environments on physiological and psychological measures of stress--a pilot study.

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Helfgott Research Institute, National College of Natural Medicine, Portland, OR 97201, USA.


Environments shape health and well-being, yet little research has investigated how different real-world environmental settings influence the well-known determinant of health known as stress. Using a cross-over experimental design; this pilot study investigated the effect of four urban environments on physiological and psychological stress measures. Participants (N = 15) were exposed on separate days to one of the four settings for 20 min. These settings were designated as Very Natural; Mostly Natural; Mostly Built and Very Built. Visitation order to the four settings was individually randomized. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase; as well as self-report measures of stress; were collected before and after exposure to each setting. Gender was included as a variable in analysis; and additional data about environmental self-identity, pre-existing stress, and perceived restorativeness of settings were collected as measures of covariance. Differences between environmental settings showed greater benefit from exposure to natural settings relative to built settings; as measured by pre-to-post changes in salivary amylase and self-reported stress; differences were more significant for females than for males. Inclusion of covariates in a regression analysis demonstrated significant predictive value of perceived restorativeness on these stress measures, suggesting some potential level of mediation. These data suggest that exposure to natural environments may warrant further investigation as a health promotion method for reducing stress.

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