Australian research studies health impacts of living in a high-rise apartment

More Australians are choosing to live in inner city high-rise apartments with estimates for Melbourne and Sydney pointing to a three-fold increase in this style of living. But are those living high living healthy?

In the first project of its kind to be undertaken in Australia, Deakin University researchers are investigating the impact that access to natural environments, such as parks, have on the health and wellbeing of inner city high-rise apartment residents.

The researchers are inviting people living in high-rise residences (either privately owned/rented or publicly rented apartments) in inner city Melbourne to share their experiences. Participation in the study will involve completing a questionnaire and possibly a follow-up interview.

While there is a growing body of overseas research investigating the health and wellbeing benefits of contact with nature, little if any comparable research has been undertaken in Australia, according to the head of the research team, Dr Mardie Townsend.

Overseas research has shown that exposure to natural environments can result in enhanced psychological wellbeing, increased immunity to disease and enhanced productivity as well as other far reaching benefits ranging from reduction of crime and the promotion of individuals’ capacity to deal with the day-to-day challenges of life. Isolation from nature has been linked with increases in depression.

Dr Townsend said that while parks had not entirely lost their connection with health, emphasis today was on physical activity opportunities with little recognition given to the other health and wellbeing benefits offered by access to nature through parks.

“For those living in inner city high-rise apartments, access to nature is limited by the lack of a traditional front or back garden and by the trend to banning the keeping of pets in apartment blocks. Access to nature through parks is, therefore, likely to be even more important for these people than for those living in the suburbs with their gardens and pets.

“Given the high level of urbanisation in Australia, and the recent trend to high-density urban redevelopment, the separation of people from natural environments is likely to be compounded in the future unless specific steps are taken to ensure that access to natural environments is widely available, and the benefits provided by these environments are widely understood,” Dr Townsend said.

The ‘Living High but Healthy’ project is funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council and is being conducted by Deakin University in collaboration with Parks Victoria, the City of Melbourne, Centennial Parks (Sydney), Parramatta Park Trust (Sydney) and the Lort Smith Animal Hospital.

“The results of the project will provide governments, strategic planners, parks managers and developers with information to enable future planning, policymaking and development to maximise public health and wellbeing for urban populations, particularly for populations under stress (eg. public housing tenants),” Dr Townsend said.

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