Friday, 25 October 2013

Benefits of a Healthy Stroll in the Park

So this is something we all know about, but perhaps tend to forget as we go about our daily lives, particularly the urban folk amongst us. But it is now carved in medical stone:  there are fantastic health benefits to be had from being out and about in parks and woods, walking aimlessly along nature walks and reserves.

One of the fortunate aspects of living in London is the sheer abundance of parks and woods, and this is clearly due to the fact that the country as a whole has always held such spaces in high regard when it comes to health and feeling good. But now there is evidence (as though it were needed!).

A recent study has shown that living in a greener area can have a significant positive effect on our moods. The University of Exeter did a study using data from 5,000 UK households over 17 years, where they asked participants to report on their own psychological health during that time to estimate the “green space effect”. They found that individuals reported less mental distress and higher life satisfaction when they were living in greener areas.

In an action report by the Faculty of Public Health in association with Natural England they suggest that “Safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs in treating some forms of mental illnesses, without the costs of side-effects and ever-rising numbers of prescriptions... Even window views of nature are closely associated with increased concentration levels and productivity.”

 And further, they add,

 “Green spaces are not just effective at preventing ill health, they can also aid in recovery and rehabilitation. Studies where patients had views of nature through hospital windows found more rapid post-operative recovery and lower need for pain relief, while patients with anxiety disorders exhibited lower levels of fear and anger.”

 The action report makes the following recommendations:

 •Local authorities should provide more accessible green spaces and open-air leisure facilities in which children, families, adults and older people can safely play and exercise.
• Local strategic partnerships, especially those i urban areas, should maximise the use of available green space for health-promoting activities
 • GPs should consider providing advice about physical activity in green spaces as an alternative or adjunct to medication for patients with milder forms of depression or anxiety
• Exercise prescription schemes in general practice could usefully be extended to cover supervised physical activity in green spaces
• Programmes, such as Walking for Health and others, which encourage physical activity in green spaces and natural environments should continue to be fully supported
• Major research-funding bodies should specifically commission research on the potential role of green space in preventing

So get those walking shoes on, find your nearest park (or one we’ve suggested), and take in the greenery and reap the rewards of a healthier life style.

Nigel Prestatyn

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