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Archive for May 2nd, 2010

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Image by rosemaryann11 via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

I wonder sometimes if my readers get sick of me writing about exercising in nature! Some of my friends say they hate bugs and humidity. Some people may not have much experience in nature (especially if they grow up in an urban environment) and may be hesitant to try hiking or outdoor fitness routines. I was fortunate to have a father that was a nature lover. We spent every summer vacation camping, usually in Wisconsin. And many weekends were spent in nearby forest preserves or parks. In each home we lived in we had an outdoor garden.  My Dad introduced us to canoeing, pontoon boating, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, hiking, bicycling, paddle boating, berry picking,  swimming in the Great Lakes and smaller lakes,  and watching ducks fly south from Horicon Marsh. He was also a former gymnist and bodybuilder and taught us how to lift weights and run on treadmills in the winter. We weren’t “rich” monetarily, but we were rich in family time, the ability to spend time in nature and in fresh air, and good cardiovascular workouts!

As an adult I’ve enjoyed time spent in the gym, but I tend to gravitate towards nature. Now years later, more and more more research is showing that my natural inclination and my father’s tendency to get us outdoors is actually better for your health. Read the excerpt below from the University of Essex about a study  that shows even a 5 minute walk or time spent gardening can have immediate positive effects on your health. That’s right bug haters–it only takes 5 minutes to have a benefit! So grab the Off or Citronella and get outside!

A Walk A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Just a small ‘dose’ of nature every day will benefit people’s mood, self-esteem and mental health, a new study by the University of Essex has shown. Surprisingly the research found that just five minutes of green exercise produced the largest positive effect.

Previous studies by the researchers had confirmed the links between nature, exercise in green environments, and health benefits. But this study is the first to quantify the health benefits in terms of the best ‘dose’ of nature.

The research by Dr Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty is published online (and in print on 15 May) in the American journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

Their analysis of 1,252 people (of different ages, gender and mental health status) drawn from ten existing studies in the UK, showed that activity in the presence of nature (green exercise) led to mental and physical health improvements. The activities analysed were walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming.

‘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’, said Professor Pretty. The researchers concluded that green exercise should be developed for therapy purposes (green care), that planners and architects should improve access to green space (green design), and that children’s learning should include working in outdoor settings (green education).

‘A walk a day should help to keep the doctor away – and help to save the country money,’ said Dr Barton. ‘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.’
Some of the substantial mental health challenges facing society and physical challenges arising from modern diets and sedentary lifestyles (such as the alarming growth in obesity) could be addressed by increased forms of activity in natural places, the authors argue.

All natural environments were beneficial (including urban green); although the presence of water generated greater effects. A blue and green environment seems even better for health, the authors stated.

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