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Green Space and Exercise for Mental Health

The GREAT Outdoors

It’s estimated that at least one in four adults have experienced a mental health problem in this country, and scarily, that figure is about one in ten for children. There are no simple cures in many cases, but there are a great many effective methods of management.

As an outdoor based Personal Trainer, I have worked with several clients diagnosed with depression and anxiety over the years, so although my experiences are largely anecdotal here, the effect of being outdoors combined with exercise is strongly encouraging from my perspective.

Not that this is new information of course. Studies all across the world for quite some time have shown that regular, moderate exercise can have a hugely positive impact on mental wellbeing; most notably in cases of mild depression and anxiety.

Many of these benefits have also been found simply by getting outdoors into green open spaces. Whether it’s the fresh air, the extra vitamin D, or the endorphins created from connecting with nature; some of the proven benefits include:

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Stronger immune system

  • Mental restoration

  • Improved short-term memory

  • Reduction in stress

Outdoors and Exercise

When I first started running, back in 2010, it was a real eye-opener. I could head out with 99 problems, and return with none. I found that an hour of complete exhaustion could end up being the most relaxing part of my day.

My clients often echo this sentiment as I work with them on building stamina and sticking to a plan. Comments like “I get it now…. I get why people like this so much” fill me with joy for my work. Even in the cold and wet weather, it really does the mind a service!

Although Personal Trainers should not be first port of call for mental health treatment (see a GP or a MH specialist service first), we can often help in addition to other treatments. I had a client last week, upon hearing I was writing this piece, very bravely speak to me about her own recent struggle with bereavement. It was clear that this was immensely difficult to speak of, but the message was pertinent:

She spoke of soft distractions for when the mind was at its quietest and most vulnerable, such as audiobooks to help get to sleep. She then went on to say that being outdoors, in the elements, not only clears her mind, but does so with enough distraction in the form of ‘where you’re going’ and ‘where to put your foot next’ to keep the darker thoughts in check.

In Summary:

Getting outdoors has such a mind-cleansing, immersive quality to it and a really useful management tool for both physical and mental wellbeing. Clean air combined with physical exertion and constant visual feedback from the changing scenery is something that everybody should have at least a basic access to.

Green Party Policy

The Green Party has adopted the proposal for a Nature and Wellbeing act proposed by a coalition of organisations including Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. This is what the proposed law has to say about health and nature

As wild places have disappeared, with them so has our sense of connection to the natural world, and levels of physical inactivity, obesity, heart disease, depression and Type 2 Diabetes have all risen. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Pressures on the NHS are growing and costs are forecast to rise inexorably. Physical inactivity alone costs us £20 billion pounds every year. There is a role, alongside other treatment methods, for a low tech and preventative approach with nature and natural spaces at the fore. Ecotherapy projects have seen organisations like Mind and The Wildlife Trusts collaborate to use outdoor settings and nature to help improve mental wellbeing. Quality is key: spending time in varied habitats, full of wildlife such as birds, butterflies and plantlife is good for us. Halting the decline of wildlife and starting its recovery is good for us all.

In the High Peak, we are privileged to have access to a beautiful natural environment. But things could be better. Even here wildlife is in decline and we must act now to reverse that. On January 19th 2019, High Peak Green Party will host a conference, Hope for Nature at Bamford Institute with several speakers and discussions on regenerating biodiversity in our area. The event is free but places are limited.

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