Researchers from the University of Exeter and Public Health England calculated that more than eight million adults in England take part in ‘green exercise’ or nature-based activities for 30 minutes or so each week.
This includes activities such as dog walking, running, cycling, outdoor swimming or horse riding.
Data from Natural England’s ‘Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment’ survey was analysed to reveal that more than 1.3 billion recreational visits to green spaces took place each year in England.
Scientists then worked out what proportion of weekly physical activity took place in natural settings and estimated the benefits to health if sustained for a year.
Dr Angie Bone, Head of Extreme Events at Public Health England, and co-author on the work, said: “Our parks, gardens, coasts and countryside play a vital role in improving health in this country, inspiring millions of us to get active outdoors every year.
“Evidence suggests that access to good quality green space is linked to feeling healthier, a lower body mass index and decreased levels of obesity, and improved mental health and wellbeing. This research highlights the positive impact getting outdoors has on our health, emphasising the importance of both promoting exercise outdoors to a wider population and maintaining the quality and accessibility of the nation’s parks and wild places.”
Dr Mathew White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, and lead author of the research, added: “We’ve known for a long time that regular physical activity is good for health and reduces the burden on health services. We have now worked out approximately how much physical activity regularly takes place in England’s natural environments and how much this benefits adult health across the population.
“Ultimately these benefits will translate into savings for the NHS, highlighting the need to both maintain and promote our natural environments for exercise and health.”
The findings from the study, ‘Recreational physical activity in natural environments and implications for health: A population based cross-sectional study in England’, have been published in the journal Preventive Medicine.