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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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The length of our walking guides is given in miles and rounded to the nearest full mile (whole number) for simplicity. For short walks (of less than 2 miles) or walks that have a length that ends in .5, a more accurate walk length may be given in the first section of the walk introduction. For example, the Length in the header may be listed as 6 miles, and the introduction may confirm that the exact length of the walk is 5.5 miles. The walk length is calculated from the GPS file that was created by the walk author GPS tracking the walk whilst walking, using the iFootpath App GPS Tracker, meaning it is very accurate. Our bespoke tracker is particularly detailed and plots a walkers position about every 10 seconds. The tracker is calibrated to match two other reputable map and walking sources, Ordnance Survey and Nike. As with all standardised walk and map lengths, the distance does not take account of hills and slopes, just the distance you would measure using a piece of string on a flat map version of the terrain, so hilly walks will feel longer than stated. If you track the route using another GPS App or Tracker App or Fitness Device, you can expect the distance you record to be different due to different calibrations. This is particularly true of those Apps and devices that count your motion and steps – these can only guess the distance you have travelled with each step and so are much less accurate.

Grade (Boots)

The grade of a walk is an indicator of how difficult the terrain is that you will encounter along the way. This does not take into account the walk length but does suggest how challenging the walk will be. It takes into account things like hills, path surfaces and obstacles (like stiles, gates, steps and rock scrambles). An easy walk, graded as 1 (and shown as 1 Boot) indicates a walk that is essentially flat, has no sharp hills to climb, has no stiles, is easy to navigate (probably along a well-worn path) and is suitable for most levels of fitness. A difficult walk, graded as 5 (and represented by 5 Boots) indicates a walk that is strenuous and involves steep ascents and/or descents. It may be technically challenging involving difficult terrain or obstacles that require scrambling with your hands. Please note that the grading for walks is subjective and open to interpretation and should only be used as a guide when selecting a walk.

NOTE: Do be aware that the level of stamina required for any walk will vary depending on both the walk length and the difficulty grade - you should only walk within your limits.

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