LOS ANGELES: Pregnant women who were 'virtually' exposed to greenery experienced decreases in blood pressure and improvements in mental health and well-being, a new small-scale study found.
The research team from University of California, US, found that visual exposure to a virtual reality (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 received the highest positive reaction out of the three five-minute, 360-degree videos of urban environments that the women were shown in the study, the researchers said. The findings have been published in the journal Environmental Research.
''Even short exposure to a virtual green space environment showed physiological and affective stress reduction among pregnant women,'' co-corresponding author of the study Jun Wu said.
''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,'' said Wu.
According to the study, 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, said the study.
Researchers recruited 63 healthy pregnant women from Beijing to participate in the double-blind, randomized study. They began by triggering anxiety among them via a lab-developed stress test.
Then the women were shown 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.
They also administered a questionnaire to the participants about the positive or negative emotions they were experiencing following watching the videos.
Emotions such as feeling attentive, active, alert, excited, enthusiastic, determined, inspired, proud, interested or strong were counted under 'positive'.
Emotions such as feeling hostile, irritable, ashamed, guilty, distressed, upset, scared, afraid, jittery or nervous were considered as 'negative'.
The researchers suggested that future studies of a similar kind might consider different ''dosages'' of urban green space, computer-generated scenarios versus actual nature environments, and short- versus long-term impacts.