It’s not easy being green: the great outdoors and health and wellbeing
Updated: May 8, 2019
Time spent outdoors in green space is good for our physical and mental wellbeing. It sounds simple. But making sure those positive benefits are extended to all corners of our community is a considerably more complex issue.
Our images of holidays and weekends away almost always include scenery, be it beaches or forests, lakes or mountains; even a city holiday will generally involve parks or gardens.
It’s no coincidence that for many of us, our recreation and leisure time will involve contact with nature in some form or another.
Growing evidence suggests that people can derive substantial mental health benefits from being exposed to natural environments. Being close to nature has been shown to be associated with lower levels of stress and also to lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
There are even greater health benefits when the positive impacts of nature are combined with physical exercise.
In one New Zealand study, doctors gave sedentary patients a ‘green prescription’, a written plan recommending a regular walk in the park to improve their health, and found patients increased their physical activity levels significantly. Similarly, Victoria’s Active in Parks ‘Green Referrals’ program provides a series of eight-week activity programs in local parks for people needing to make healthy lifestyle changes, with the assistance of appropriately accredited fitness providers.
However, not everyone in urban communities has easy access to green spaces. Factors including time, money, distance, access to transport, physical mobility and social restrictions can be real barriers that prevent people from enjoying a breath of fresh air and a walk through the trees.
Green space—a health equity issue
“Green space is an important determinant of health, not just because it enables physical activity but also because it has been shown to promote higher levels of mental wellbeing and social connectedness,” says Dr Annemarie Wright, Principal Project Officer, Knowledge and Health Equity for VicHealth.
“People from socio-economically disadvantaged areas have lower levels of physical activity, not because they don’t know it’s good for them, but because, between the demands of work and the suburbs they can afford to live in, they often have fewer opportunities to engage in physical activity.”
Access to green space is a manifestation of this inequality, she adds. “In Australia, where you live can give you very different levels of access to green space.”
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