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Contact with nature should be encouraged because it helps reduce loneliness in towns and cities, say researchers.

More than 700 people took part in a two-year study investigating links between feeling lonely and the built environment. It is the first research to examine how people’s surroundings might affect feelings of loneliness in daily life.

Data was collected using the Urban Mind app and people were selected from around the globe to take part in short regular assessments.

Unsurprisingly, overcrowding and population density was linked to loneliness as people felt less able to connect to others, even when they were in distress.

'Major public health concern'

However, when people interacted with nature there was a positive impact on social inclusivity and fewer feelings of loneliness.

Loneliness is a ‘major public health concern’ and can have profound adverse effects on physical and mental health, contributing to problems such as depression, alcoholism, suicide, cognitive decline and immune and cardiovascular disease.

Urban planners should preserve and enhance green spaces in high population areas, say researchers. Improvements should also be made so they are more accessible on foot.

The full report can be read on the Scientific Reports website.

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