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Green Spaces worth £2.2bn to Health

Green exercise in England benefits adult health to the tune of £2.2 billion a year, according to a recent study published in the journal of Preventative Medicine. Researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School and Public Health England analysed data from the world’s largest study on recreational visits to natural places, such as parks, woods and beaches. They estimated that over 8 million adults in England engage in green exercise each week, resulting in over 1.3 billion green exercise visits a year.

green exercise mainFor the purposes of the study, green exercise included all nature-based activities of moderate to vigorous intensity, lasting at least 30 minutes. Examples included walking, dog walking, running, horse riding, outdoor swimming and mountain biking. Because physical activity needs to be regular and sustained to benefit health, the team focused on those who reported regularly meeting government guidelines for physical activity (i.e. 5 x 30 minutes each week). They then worked out what proportion of these people’s weekly physical activity took place in natural settings and estimated the benefits to health associated with their levels of green exercise if sustained across the year. Two approaches to estimating health benefits were used, one exploring how many extra years in good health a person could expect to live from undertaking this level of exercise, and one exploring the number of lives saved each year from such activity. Similar results of monetary value were found using both methods, making the team confident in their estimates.

Dr Mathew White of the University of Exeter Medical School is lead author of the research. He said: “We’ve known for a long time that regular physical activity is good for health and reduces the burden on health services. We have now worked out approximately how much physical activity regularly takes place in England’s natural environments and how much this benefits adult health across the population. Ultimately these benefits will translate into savings for the NHS, highlighting the need to both maintain and promote our natural environments for exercise and health.”

Dr Angie Bone of Public Health England, co-author on the work, outlined some of the broader implications of the findings. She said: “Our parks, gardens, coasts and countryside play a vital role in improving health in this country, inspiring millions of us to get active outdoors every year. Evidence suggests that access to good quality green space is linked to feeling healthier, a lower body mass index and decreased levels of obesity, and improved mental health and wellbeing. This research highlights the positive impact getting outdoors has on our health, emphasising the importance of both promoting exercise outdoors to a wider population and maintaining the quality and accessibility of the nation’s parks and wild places.”

The study ‘Recreational physical activity in natural environments and implications for health: A population based cross-sectional study in England’ is published online in the journal Preventive Medicine.

3 October 2016

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