Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD
New research from the UK suggests that just five minutes of “green” exercise a day benefits people’s mood, self-esteem and mental health: in fact they found this small dose produced the largest positive effect.
You can read about the investigation Drs Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty from the University of Essex conducted into how a walk a day might keep the doctor away, in Environmental Science and Technology, where it appeared online on 25 March and will appear in print later this month.
Pretty, who is Professor of Environment and Society at Essex, told the media that:
“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.”
Barton, a Senior Researcher and Lecturer at Essex, said encouraging people to take a walk a day would help keep the doctor away and 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,” she added.
Barton and Pretty had alread established in earlier studies that links existed between green exercise, which they defined as activity in the presence of nature, and long term health benefits, but this meta-analytical study (a study that pools and re-analyzes results from other studies as if they came from one large one) is the first to measure what the best exposure “dose” might be.
For their research they pooled data covering 1,252 participants of varying ages, gender, and mental health status, drawn from 10 UK studies covering outdoor activities like gardening, walking, cycling, boating, fishing, horse riding and farming that showed green exercise was linked to improved mental and physical health.
In their calculations they looked at the links between two types of dose response: intensity and duration of activity, and two types of mental health indicators: scores on mood and self-esteem.
The biggest effect was seen in just 5 minutes of activity:
“The overall effect size for improved self-esteem was d = 0.46 (CI 0.34-0.59, p < 0.00001) and for mood d = 0.54 (CI 0.38-0.69, p < 0.00001).”
“Dose responses for both intensity and duration showed large benefits from short engagements in green exercise, and then diminishing but still positive returns,” they wrote.
It appears the effect was even greater in the presence of water, such as a lake, stream or pond, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the most beneficial environment is a blue and green one.
When they looked at age, the authors found the greatest improvement in self-esteem was in the youngest participants, and diminished with age, while for mood the smallest change was in the young and old.
The biggest change in self-esteem occurred in the mentally ill, and while both men and women showed similar boosts in self-esteem after green exercise, men showed a difference for mood.
Barton and Pretty concluded that:
“This study confirms that the environment provides an important health service.”
They recommended that green exercise should be considered for therapy (green care), planning authorities give more thought to creation and design of green space, and educators should give children more opportunity to learn outdoors.
Pretty said that we often make recommendations like these to public policymakers but they rarely adopt them. To make a significant impact in whole populations, the shift needs to be in areas as diverse as urban design, transport, social care, parenting and what we expect from our doctors, he said.
The authors said the UK population has a “natural health service” that complements the National Health Service and is there for everyone.
Source: Medical News Today