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Country views boost exercise gains

October 7, 2005 By Jim Giles This article courtesy of Nature News.

Farms should be seen as national health resource, says gym study.

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It's an unusual reason for conserving the environment, but green spaces, say researchers, make people healthier and could boost hospital patients' recovery rates.

The latest data to support the idea come from a study at the University of Essex, where 100 people exercised while viewing photographs of different scenes. The images ranged from run-down urban environments to fertile rural idylls.

After running or walking for 20 minutes on a treadmill, all the subjects had lower blood pressure. But in most cases the decrease was small. Only for the 20 subjects who had viewed pleasant rural scenes was the drop (around 10%) statistically significant. The work is currently in press at the International Journal of Environmental Health Research1.

It's intuitive. Would you want a hotel room overlooking a car park?
Jules Pretty
University of Essex
Jules Pretty, who led the study, says that the result adds weight to the idea that green areas should be conserved because they make us feel mentally and physically better. Current environmental arguments, he adds, tend to focus on the ethical and economic benefits of conservation policies.

Room with a view

Pretty and his colleagues say a range of other studies back up their 'green exercise' proposal. Prisoners and hospital patients have, for example, reported better health when living in rooms with windows overlooking green space than have those facing brick walls. Green views also boost cognitive functions in children, and reduce stress and frustration among office workers.

"We need to think of rural areas as part of our health system," says Pretty. "It's intuitive. Would you want a hotel room overlooking a car park?"

Pretty and his colleagues are now testing whether green views help patients who are undertaking exercise courses to speed recovery from heart problems. It is an idea that is already accepted in countries such as the Netherlands, says Pretty, where patients are able to visit a network of rural healthcare centres.

Growth industry

The suggestion could find favour among British farmers, who are being encouraged to earn income from activities other than agriculture. Farmers can now qualify for government funding if they take measures to boost biodiversity on their land, for example.

"I think most farmers would welcome the opportunity to give the public a better understanding of life in the countryside and if this were to open up diversified business opportunities I'm sure many farmers will respond," a spokesman for the London-based National Farmers' Union told news@nature.com.

"I'm not surprised by Pretty's findings," he adds. "The positive health benefits of exercising among pleasant rural surroundings have been enjoyed by farmers and their families for generations."

References

  1. Pretty J., Peacock J., Sellens M.& Griffin M. M. Int. J. Env. Health Res. (in the press), (2005).

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