Countryside the key to lasting happiness

JUST five minutes of “green exercise” will benefit people’s mood, self-esteem and mental health, leading academics have found.

The study by researchers at Essex University found activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming paid dividends.

It is now hoped architects and planners will be able to use the results to shape the way in which towns are designed so more green space is included.

Surprisingly the research found that just five minutes of green exercise produced the largest positive effect.

The greatest health changes were seen in the young and the mentally-ill although all age and social groups benefited.

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All natural environments were beneficial, with the presence of water generating even greater effects – great news for the fishermen out there.

Previous studies by the researchers had confirmed the links between nature, exercise in green environments, and health benefits but this was the first time the advantages were quantified in terms of the best “dose” of nature.

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The research by Dr Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty has been published online in the American journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

They analysed 1,252 people of different ages, gender and mental health status from 10 existing studies in the UK and showed that activity in the presence of nature – so called green exercise – led to mental and physical health improvements.

Dr Barton said: “A walk a day should help to keep the doctor away – and help to save the country money.

“There is a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to ‘self-medicate’ more with green exercise.”

And Prof Pretty added: “For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health.”

They also concluded green exercise should be developed for therapy purposes and that children’s learning should include working in outdoor settings.

They argue that the growth in obesity could be addressed by increased forms of activity in natural places. Prof Pretty added: “A challenge for policy makers is that recommendations on physical activity are easily made but rarely adopted widely as public policy.

“Simple prescriptions are unlikely to be adopted by whole populations unless supported by shifts in urban design, transport policy, support for social care, parenting, and patients’ expectations of their doctors.

“We concluded that there is a natural health service available to everyone that complements the National Health Service.”

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