Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

In the green of health: Just five minutes of “green exercise” optimal for good mental health

October 20, 2010




Just five minutes of exercise in a green nature
setting, like these beautiful hills in Vermont,
can boost mood and self-esteem.

Credit: Michael Bernstein,
American Chemical Society.

Summary

Here’s something that’s likely to please people who have
much to do but little time to do it. New research suggests
that just five minutes of outdoor activities, such as
exercising in a park, working in a backyard garden or
walking on a nature trail, will benefit mental health.

Here’s something that’s likely to please people who have much to do but little time to do it. New research suggests that just five minutes of outdoor activities, such as exercising in a park, working in a backyard garden or walking on a nature trail, will benefit mental health.

Activity in natural areas, also known as ‘green’ exercise, led to mental and physical health improvements in an analysis of 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health status in the United Kingdom. The study appeared in Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal of the American Chemical Society.

Until now, no one knew how much time people had to spend in green spaces to get those types of benefits. Scientists Jules Pretty and Jo Barton at Essex University in the United Kingdom analyzed activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming. The greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally-ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited. All natural environments were beneficial, including parks in urban settings, and green areas with water added something extra: A blue and green environment, the scientists found, seems even better for health.

For more on the surprising findings on the benefits of ‘green’ exercise, here is Jo Barton:

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Photo courtesy of Jules Pretty,
University of Essex in Colchester

“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.”

She points out that from a health policy perspective, the largest positive effect on self-esteem came from a five-minute dose.

“We know from the literature that short-term mental health improvements are protective of long-term health benefits. So we believe that there would be 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. A challenge for policy makers is that policy recommendations on physical activity are easily stated but rarely adopted widely as public policy, but the economic benefits associated with ‘green’ exercise could be substantial.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Be sure to check our previous Global Challenges podcast episodes by visiting www.acs.org/globalchallenges. Today’s podcast was written by John Simpson. For the American Chemical Society, I’m Adam Dylewski in Washington.

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Photo courtesy of Jo Barton,
University of Essex in Colchester