Nature’s health service

Green gym at woodland edge

Green exercise is any activity in the presence of nature, including woodland.  There is considerable and widespread evidence that demonstrates it leads to positive short and long-term health benefits for people; in physical wellbeing and mental health.

According to a recent scientific study 1 both men and women gain similar improvements in self-esteem after green exercise, though men showed the greatest difference for mood.  The greatest change in self-esteem was in the young and the mentally ill.  The study concluded that the outdoor environment and nature provides an important health service.

I wrote previously about an estimated 317 million people-visits per year to woodlands, a large majority of these being for dog-walking and other casual visits.   There is also increasing interest in organised exercise taking place in the outdoors.

Perhaps one of the best ideas, at least in my view, is the Green Gym run by the BTCV.  The concept is that people undertake physical work in the outdoors with the joint benefits of gaining exercise while improving the environment; for example in coppicing or clearing scrub at a local nature reserve.

A more recent phenomenon, extending the concept of organised green exercise in the outdoors, are the karate, pilates and other exercise classes springing up (excuse the pun) in city parks and other outdoor spaces.  I came across this exercise class (above photo) in a nature reserve, and it was proving a hit with the sheep flock and passing twitchers.  However, these types of activities are not without controversy.  According to The Tax Payers’ Alliance Council chiefs of two London Boroughs recently introduced new rules stating that:

.. anyone making money by being in a park should pay a fee. This means the council will now use patrols to check if anyone suspected of personal training, dog walking, nannying or even teaching for money has got the requisite license.

I’m sure it’s a personal taste but I would much prefer to don some old clothes and spend an hour or two with bowsaw or billhook, than roll around in lycra while watched by sheep.  What do ewe think?

Gabriel Hemery


Reference

1 Barton, J. and Pretty, J. (2010).  What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis.  Environmental Science & Technology, 44 , (10),  pp. 3947–3955.  DOI 10.1021/es903183r.  Read Abstract

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3 thoughts on “Nature’s health service

  1. Great post Gabriel – I like the way you’ve used the tree to conceal the gym leader’s identity – a ‘green’ version of those blobs on TV. Personally, I’ll go for the twitching though my wife says it isn’t real walking !

    I am horrified but not surprised by the report of two councils trying to charge for ‘money making’ activities in parks. We get increasingly used to mindless harrasment by people like this in all aspects of our lives. Its time to fight back. This is absolute rubbish and verging on the immoral as well as going against some of the basic needs of society – to get people out & more healthy. It’s also a hint as to why people supported FC so enthusiastically – when local authorities banned mountain bikes FC set up trails and an absolute principle of FC recreation is not to bully people all the time – exemplified by big open areas where you can do pretty well what you like.

    This whole area is much bigger than people realise – economists can’t measure it and therefore effectively claim it doesn’t exist – but what does the view & environment you live in – street trees and local parks – where you enjoy your leisure – whether mountian biking pilates or dog walking – and the time out of urban life it all adds up to represent ? Quality of Life – and what’s more important than that ?

    1. Thank you Rod – glad you enjoyed the post. It came about after one of those chance moments when I saw the group excercising near a woodland. You never know where the next inspiration will come from in blogging.

      Yes the idea of charging people for use when it is effectively free for all is quite a challenging one. There was quite a lot of interest in the media about this, including radio phone-ins etc. I wonder whether other countries around the world have made an issue out of this?
      Gabriel

  2. In countries like China, where park classes are a part of the culture, I don’t think charging for money making activities would go down well.

    I guess if the green gyms are popular, then they’re a good thing. But not something I would want to be involved with, personally.

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