In this paper, researchers wanted to better understand the mental and physical responses of participants when walking in urban settings in two cities: Nakuru (Kenya) and Udon Thani (Thailand). The study areas were chosen because they are of comparable population size and growth rate, and have a similar mix of formal and informal urban development.

Two women in exercise clothes chat happily as they walk through a park in Thailand

Two women walking together in a park. Photo: eyesfoto / Getty Images

Most research on the benefits of green spaces in urban areas and walking in those spaces has taken place in the global North. The authors recognized the need to conduct similar research in the global South given rapid urbanization in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia. This study is the first of its kind to explore measures of mental and physical well-being in response to built urban spaces within African and Asian secondary cities.

The study involved just over 230 participants, local students aged 18-30, with roughly equal numbers in each location and an even gender balance. Researchers measured participants’ moods before and after their walk, and their heart rate throughout. The pre-planned walking routes in both locations passed through a variety of urban settings and green spaces.

The study found that the participants’ stress (measured using their heart rate) reduced while walking in green spaces, consistent with research in the global North. However, unlike studies conducted in the global North, the mood of participants did not show the expected improvement. The researchers offered some possible explanations for this based on socio-economic and environmental factors unique to each location, but also indicated that further research is needed to understand these factors, as well as any negative cultural connotations associated with walking in these regions.