a fine set of whiskers


green exercise
november 6 2016

For the first time in a long time over the last month I’ve had time for walks outdoors nearly every day. I’ve walked along beaches in East Yorkshire, up the Derbyshire Dales, around Kielder Water and through many London Parks, enjoying fresh air, exercise and immersing myself completely in the glories of our autumn – and I’ve never felt better.

When “All in the Mind” on Radio 4 interviewed a Green Exercise expert from Essex University this week, I wasn’t surprised therefore to hear that there is a growing body of scientific evidence for the improvement in both physical and mental health that comes from exercising outdoors.

Green exercise is quite simply physical exercise and activity that is undertaken in natural environments. Evidence suggests that as well as the usual benefits associated with exercise, if taken outdoors, green exercise helps to reduce stress, improves concentration and reduces natural fatigue. In addition close proximity to water has a really positive impact on self-esteem and mood- I certainly felt this after an energetic stroll along Easington Beach in Yorkshire and so did the happy dog at my side – or in truth, more often than not, the happy dog far off in the distance !

I know I’m lucky that I’m equally happy walking with friends or family or on my own, but that’s not the same for everyone. Fortunately there are lots of organisations offering great outdoor exercise experiences, which aren’t all about mammoth physical exertion.

One of the researchers from Essex University contributes research findings to Park Run to help them understand the broader impact and contribution to public health of their organisation. Park Run is a wonderful organisation that since it began has organised nearly 73,000 free, weekly 5km runs which have enabled over 1 million people- individually or with groups of friends- to take part in outdoor exercise. The events take place in pleasant parkland close to where you live and they encourage people of all ages and abilities to take part; from those taking their first steps in running to Olympians; from juniors to those with more experience; they really do welcome everyone.

It is evident from the blogs on their website and the stories of people taking part that this means so much more than simply taking part in a run. There are stories of how the exercise, sense of community and achievement, as well as the opportunity to be outdoors help people to cope with some of the most challenging times, from coping with cancer treatment to receiving a diagnosis of dementia as well as the inevitable ups and downs of day-to-day life.

There really is nothing new about Green Exercise, it’s just with busy more city centred lives many of us have lost touch with finding the time to feel the benefits. The Ramblers’ Association for example has been around for more than 80 years and gives individuals and groups the opportunity to enjoy the sense of freedom and benefits that come from being outdoors on foot. Over 300,000 people each year take part in their organised walks but they’re also happy to support independent walkers with information and support on tried and tested routes too. They also support people who are not currently walking by providing support to projects like the Walking for Health programme.

Green Exercise is really important and you don’t have to live in beautiful countryside to take part and immediately feel better. The results of the research from the team at Essex University are already beginning to influence health, social care and environmental agendas to enable green exercise to be recognised as a mechanism for improving health.

This really is one aspect of our physical and mental well-being that we can readily and easily manage ourselves – time to head off out in the autumn sunshine!