Pregnant women exposed to a green space environment in virtual reality experienced decreases in blood pressure and improvements in mental health and well-being, according to a new study.
For the study in Environmental Research, the researchers examined the short-term responses of urban pregnant women exposed to a virtual reality green space.
“Even short exposure to a virtual green space environment showed physiological and affective stress reduction among pregnant women,” says Jun Wu, professor of environmental and occupational health in the University of California, Irvine’s Program in Public Health.
“It’s not the same as the real world, but this study helps inform city planners who are creating urban spaces. It proves the importance of green space to the well-being and mental health of the population living in those spaces.”
There is extensive research on the positive impacts of green space exposure on health and well-being, including reduced risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes; improved pregnancy outcomes such as decreased risk of low birth weight and preterm birth; and enhanced mental health.
However, exploration of the link between physiological mechanisms and green space among special populations, like pregnant women, has been lacking.
For the study, researchers recruited 63 healthy pregnant women from Beijing to participate in the double-blind, randomized study. They began by triggering anxiety among the women in a lab-developed stress test. Then they showed the women three five-minute, 360-degree videos of urban environments: one depicting a parklike setting, the second consisting of a street view with green space, and the third featuring a street view without green space.
Before and after the videos, researchers measured participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and skin conductance level; collected saliva samples; and administered a questionnaire about positive (i.e., attentive, active, alert, excited, enthusiastic, determined, inspired, proud, interested, or strong) and negative (i.e., hostile, irritable, ashamed, guilty, distressed, upset, scared, afraid, jittery, or nervous) emotions.
The team found that visual exposure to a VR green space environment was associated with lower systolic blood pressure, reduced salivary alpha-amylase (an indicator of stress), improved positive emotions, and decreased negative emotions compared to the non-green space environment. The parklike setting had the highest positive reaction out of the three videos.
The researchers suggest that future studies of a similar kind consider different “dosages” of urban green space; computer-generated scenarios versus actual nature environments; and short- versus long-term impacts.
Additional co-corresponding authors are from Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Peking Union Medical College, and UC Irvine.
Source: UC Irvine