Dr Mark Atkinson's Blog

10Sep 2010

Green exercise is best

Regular moderate exercise is as close to a panacea for health and well-being as you can get. It’s essential for the health of your mind, the quality of your mood and the prevention of future health-related problems. What’s more, regular physical activity can help to release stored psychological and emotional tension, increase stress resilience, stimulate the production of new brain cells and inter-brain cell connections, increase feelings of self-worth and self-confidence, balance hormones, prevent and stabilise insulin resistance, reduce body fat, increase bone mass and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, hip fractures and breast cancer. You get the idea.


Over the last few years researchers have taken a look at the impact of the environment within which we exercise on ourselves. The results are fascinating. Researchers recently analyzed 10 British studies encompassing a total of more than 1,200 participants involved in outdoor activities such as cycling, walking, horseback riding, and fishing. They found that ‘green’ exercise improves people’s mood and self-esteem, with the biggest effects coming in just five minutes; after that point, the effects were still positive over time but weren’t as dramatic as the initial gains. While every green environment studied improved participants’ mood and self-esteem, the presence of water seemed especially beneficial. And certain groups seem to benefit even more than others: the youngest participants enjoyed greater improvements in self-esteem than all other age groups and the mentally ill showed some of the biggest self-esteem improvements. What’s the take home message? For optimum health we all need to be exercising on most days. The British government recommends a minimum of thirty minutes for adults and sixty minutes for children of moderate-intensity physical activity on at least five days of the week. However and if you have the choice why not try exercising in nature rather than down the gym. I also encourage many of my patients to practice mindfulness whilst they exercise. Rather than going into our heads to think, just notice what you see around you – without thinking about what you are seeing. Keep your attention on the here and now and notice how much easier it is to access flow, a state of absorption in the moment.

Author: Mark Atkinson