Visits to national parks around the world may result in mental health improvements valued at approximately US$6 trillion, according to a team of ecologists, psychologists and economists from Griffith University.

“People already visit parks to recover from stress,” says lead author Ralf Buckley.

“In healthcare terms, it’s patient-funded therapy.”

According to Buckley, this is the first time this kind of preventative therapy has been quantified on a global scale.

The researchers measured the impact of park visits on quality of life through three pilot studies with 20,000 people. Using economic modelling, the researchers estimated how these benefits would translate into healthcare savings both in Australia and globally.

They determined that the absence of parks would potentially cost Australia $145 billion each year and have suggested that their research could be used as an argument to invest more in parks.

“Protected areas are there for conservation, which gives us a liveable planet and underpins our entire economy, but conservation is not very powerful politically,” says Buckley.

“People and politicians pay more attention to health, because it affects them personally.”