Green exercises refer to physical exercise undertaken in relatively natural environments. While physical exercise is well known to provide physical and psychological health benefits, there is also good evidence that viewing, being in, and interacting with natural environments has calming and positive mood effects. The combination of these two elements (exercise and nature) leads to the notion of green exercise.
People and animals tend to naturally participate in green exercise. However its potential role in physical and mental health attracted increased attention during the 2000s,particularly through the research work of Prof. Jules Pretty at the University of Essex and several funded programs. This concept has grown out of well established areas within environmental psychology which has tended to focus on the psychological and physical effects of viewing nature and well-recognised work about the psychological benefits of physical exercise.
The University of Essex (UK) recently started to quantify some of these health benefits. The research has involved a range of different types of natural therapies, contexts, activities; clients, motivations and needs, but all have shown positive health and wellbeing benefits. Findings report that many types of activities, irrespective of activity and duration (e.g. walking, cycling, horse-riding and fishing), lead to improvements in self-esteem and mood, by reducing feelings of anger, confusion, depression and tension. They also measured physical health benefits, such as reduced blood pressure, and saw how engaging group activities facilitates social networking and connectivity. For example, from a study of 1,252 people (of different ages, genders and mental health status) drawn from ten existing studies in the United Kingdom, the authors were able to show that activity in the presence of nature led to mental and physical health improvements. They analyzed activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming. They found that the greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally-ill, although people of all ages and social groups all benefited. All natural environments were beneficial including parks in urban settings. Green areas with water added something extra as a blue and green environment seems even better for health (Hope you all now know why fountains are built in parks).
Examples of countries where green exercise takes place include:
- England : where there is funding for eight demonstration green exercise projects through local regional partnerships. The main aim is to increase levels of physical activity and people’s connections to their local green spaces.
- Scotland: where Green Exercise Partnership between NHS Health Scotlandand Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Government is providing £3 million funding to the Paths for All Partnership between 2007 and 2010 to develop its Paths to Health Initiative, which currently supports over 20,000 people to take part in health walks each week. SNH and Government funding is also being provided to BTCV to extend their green gym project.
- Australia: through its Green Gym programs which is a type of green exercise. These generally involve organised groups which engage in volunteer environmental restoration work, but which are also specifically designed to provide physical exercise and physical conditioning in the context of experiencing natural environments. An example of such a green gym program is the one conducted through the Australian Conservation Foundation which are based on similar programs conducted byBritish Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
From these, I guess we can begin to appreciate why most of the state governments in Nigeria are now creating parks and making them look natural. This is to provide avenues for us to engage in our exercises e.g. jogging etc. Also, taking into cognizance the Nigerian context; we don’t have green gyms or the likes but we can participate in gardening and farming which are good green exercises which can be undertaken by everybody regardless of status. So it’s a win-win situation, we keep our environment green and also derive the health benefits of the exercises. But we as a people and the authorities can definitely do more, because going green affects every facet of our lives and our planet.
(Excerpts from A new study in the American Chemical Society’s semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology)
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