The Application of Wearable Technology to Quantify Health and Wellbeing Co-benefits From Urban Wetlands

Jonathan P. Reeves, Andrew T. Knight, Emily A. Strong, Victor Heng, Chris Neale, Ruth Cromie, Ans Vercammen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Improved nature provision in urban environments offers great potential for achieving both biodiversity conservation and public health objectives. Yet there are few experimental studies that address links between specific natural environments and physiological and/or psychological changes that could contribute to the health and wellbeing co-benefits of urban nature. In addition, relative to green space, the salutogenic impact of aquatic environments are understudied. Here, we present a feasibility study examining the use of low-cost wearable technology to quantify the psychophysiological effects of short-term exposure to urban wetlands. The study took place at the WWT London Wetland Centre, which is characterized by its contrasting biodiverse wetland habitat and surrounding urban setting. Thirty-six healthy participants experienced counterbalanced exposures to an indoor space, a wetland, an urban site. We continuously recorded electroencephalographic (EEG) data and real-time physiological stress responses; with additional monitoring of post-exposure self-reported mood states. We found a significant effect of site on mean resting heart rate (HR), with increased HR in the urban setting, although this was only observed in participants with pre-existing high stress. We found no significant differences in other measures of physiological stress responses (heart rate variability and electrodermal activity). The EEG data showed modulation of high beta band activity only in the wetland setting, potentially related to changes in attention. However, the EEG findings were confounded by low quality signals and artifacts caused by movement and environmental interference. Assessments of self-reported mood states demonstrated an increase in positive feelings in the wetland setting. A pronounced decrease in negative feelings in the wetland setting was observed in stressed individuals only. Our results suggest that pre-existing stress levels may be an important modulator of the salutogenic effect of blue-green space. We provide partial support for the hypothesis that exposure to blue-green space promotes stress recovery and for the use of low-cost psychophysiological measurements to quantify the potential stress-reducing effects of blue–green space exposure in urban dwellers. Further technological refinement is required for this approach to become a viable tool to support evidence-based decision-making for public health and green/blue space provision.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1840
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAUG
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


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