Outdoor “green exercise” provides £2.2bn of health benefits to adults in England each year, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter calculated that more than eight million people each week took at least 30 minutes of "green exercise". They estimate that this provides £2.2bn of health benefits to adults in England each year. They hope the results underline how encouraging more people to use parks and green spaces for outdoor exercise could help to reverse the trend of rising obesity levels across the UK.
Lead author Mathew White explains: “What we look at here is something that can be converted relatively simply into monetary values.”
"There are very clear ideas about how much physical activity needs to be done in order to benefit health. What we have done here is to focus on those people who use the natural environment for enough activity a week (5x30 minutes) in order to justify gains in their health," he added.
Dr White said that there had been relatively few attempts to place a monetary estimate on the societal benefits from green exercise.
“There are very clear ideas about how much physical activity needs to be done in order to benefit health. What we have done here is to focus on those people who use the natural environment for enough activity a week (5x30 minutes) in order to justify gains in their health," he added.
"First of all we looked at the total number of people that went to the natural environment in England each year. Then we looked at the total number of people who engage in what we call an active visit (cycling, walking, running etc).
"We then looked at how often they did that, and if they did it enough times to benefit their health which we converted into something called Quality Adjusted Life Years, which could then be converted into monetary estimates."
The study estimated that “green exercise” was worth an average of £2.2bn each year in health benefits.
The team suggested that the findings presented a clear indication of the potential implications of policymakers tackling the upward trend in UK obesity levels through the use and availability of "essentially free-at-the-point-of-access environments".
Dr White added: "We already know that many people with weight issues do not like going to the gym because they feel socially embarrassed, whereas a walk in the park does not have that stigma.”
"We think it really takes the pressure of these groups in particular. The cost to the health service of obesity is just enormous and is growing every year. If we can encourage more people to do these simple activities outdoors we can make significant inroads into that trend."
Previous studies have demonstrated the huge benefits to health and wellbeing of “green exercise” and this new study enables a monetary value to be added to this.
The findings of the study are published in the journal Preventative Medicine.