UCI-led study finds virtual green space exposure beneficial to pregnant women | UCI News

Irvine, California, November 17, 2022 – According to a study conducted by the University of California, Irvine, pregnant women who were exposed to green spaces in a virtual reality environment had lower blood pressure and improved mental health and well-being.

In a recent article Environmental studiesco-corresponding author Jun Wu, Ph.D., professor of environmental and occupational health in the UCI Public Health Program, studied the short-term responses of urban pregnant women exposed to a virtual reality green space.

“Even short-term exposure to a virtual green space environment has shown a reduction in physiological and affective stress in pregnant women,” Wu said. “It’s not the same as the real world, but this research helps inform urban planners who create urban spaces. This proves the importance of green space for the well-being and mental health of the people living in those areas.”

There is extensive research on the positive effects 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 lower birth weight and reduced risk of preterm birth; and improves mental health. However, research on the relationship between physiological mechanisms and green space among special populations such as pregnant women has been insufficient.

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Researchers recruited 63 healthy pregnant women from Beijing to participate in a double-blind, randomized study. They started by inducing anxiety among them through a laboratory stress test. The women were then shown three five-minute, 360-degree videos depicting urban environments: one depicting a park-like setting, one consisting of a street scene with green space, and the third showing a street scene without green space.

Before and after the videos, the researchers measured the participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and skin conductance; collected saliva samples; and positive (i.e., focused, active, alert, excited, enthusiastic, determined, inspired, proud, interested, or strong) and negative (i.e., hostile, angry, embarrassed, guilty, stressed, upset, fearful, fearful, trembling, or nervous) emotions.

The team found that visual exposure to a VR green space environment was associated with lower systolic blood pressure, lower salivary alpha-amylase (an indicator of stress), improved positive emotions and reduced negative emotions compared to a non-green space environment. The park-like setting had the highest positive reaction of the three videos.

The researchers recommend that future studies of a similar nature consider different “doses” of urban green space; computer-generated scenarios against real environments; and short-term and long-term effects.

Additional corresponding authors of this study: UCI’s Program in Public Health, Ph.D. Dr. Yi Sun and Liang Xu of Peking University College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Co-authors include Fu Li and Jie Yin, Ph.D., Peking University; Tao He of the UCI Program in Public Health; Yaohan Meng of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College; and Ilona S. Yim, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at UCI.

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About University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the top 10 public universities in the country. US News & World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel Prize winners and is known for its academic excellence, pioneering research, innovation and its ant-eating mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It is located in one of the safest and most economically vibrant communities in the world and is Orange County’s second largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more information about UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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About the UCI Program in Public Health: UCI’s Program in Public Health is dedicated to achieving health equity for all populations through teaching, research, service, and public health practice locally and globally. Supported by the principles of evidence-based health science, the program seeks to understand and influence population-level social, biological, and environmental determinants of health and well-being. Drawing on the diverse backgrounds of its faculty, it aims to educate the future workforce of California and beyond through unique programs and experiential learning opportunities. For more information, visit publichealth.uci.edu.

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