Green Exercise as the New Green Prescription
According to Marselle, Irvine, & Warber, (2013), “Green exercise is the new “green prescription” to improve psychological and emotional well-being, as well as physical activity.” The term ‘green’ is referred to any natural environments such as parks, hiking trails, mountains, beaches, wooded areas, etc. (Marselle, et al., 2013) Nature with the combination of exercise, is being reconsidered as a form of “therapy” to improve the state of one’s physical, mental and social well-being.
In today’s world, there is an increase of heart disease, obesity, and mental illness threatening many people’s well-being. It is important to know how the health care system can help prevent these chronic issues form increasing. (Marselle, et al., 2013) Utilizing enough exercise on a regular basis can help prevent these chronic issues and increase well-being for optimal health. (Simon, 2015) Researchers have been studying the benefits of physical exercise for many years. There is plenty of evidence that documents that it has positive effects such as reducing the risk for chronic illness, increasing mental wellness, and prolonging life. However, in today’s culture, many adults are not active enough and there is a decrease in physical demands in life. (Hitchings & Latham, 2017)
Before the industrial and technological revolution came about, most workers had blue-collar jobs and had to put in physical labor every day. Since the 90’s most employment jobs have transitioned into an office environment. According to Bergouignan, Legget, De Jong, Kealey, Nikolovski, Groppel, & Bessesen, (2016) with the new working demands, methods, and increase in processing and evaluating information, it has placed high demands on workers and has increased mental stress, impacting well-being and mood. Also with the growth of these service office jobs, it has reduced physical activity in the workplace because workers sit the majority of their day. Therefore, they are not getting the physical activity that can help with cognition, focus, “well-being, and mood”. (Bergouignan, et al., 2016)
With the lack of physical activity and the growth of obesity and illness, exercise has become unpopular and many do not have the motivation to put in the work. According to Hitchings, (2017) studies show that there is an importance of having physical pleasures by enveloping a form of physical activity that utilizes expression and sensations. One way is to combine exercise and environment to create pleasurable sensations. (Hitchings et al., 2017) Some examples of this could be feeling the grass beneath your feet as you walk in the park or even dancing in an open field and feeling the breeze in the movement.
Unfortunately, with the rise of populated urbanized society and fast-paced living, nature has become separate from humanity. Many do not see the value in nature and have forgotten that it has been considered a place of worship, a place to relax and recover from stressors. (Brymer & Gray, 2009) It is important to know that research studies have found positive relationships between green space and human health and well-being. (Bowler, Buyung-Ali, Knight, & Pullin, 2010) The effects of the natural environment on well-being have been researched and studied expansively.
Two theories that provide an understanding of how nature improves well-being are ART and PSRF. (Marselle et al., 2013)
• Attention Restoration Theory (ART) utilizes a specific mode of attention that helps captivate fascination. This helps the mind to become distracted from the stressors that increase mental fatigue and stress reactions, to a soft fascination with features of the environment, that attract attention to flow effortlessly into a different direction. (Olafsdottir, Cloke, & Vögele, 2017)
• Psychophysiological Stress Reduction Framework (PSRF) focuses on the therapeutic stress-reducing effects the environment provides and the restorative effects it has after time spent in nature. (Olafsdottir, et al., 2017) PSRF proposes that these effects “trigger positive emotional reactions related to safety and survival”. (Bowler, et al., 2010)
Nature also creates the conditions for a renewed sense of purpose, increased feelings of peace and relaxation, independence and skills which help individuals be more open to reflection and see the symbolic significance to create meaning in life. (Gezondheidsraad, 2004)
Another way nature can help improve health is by encouraging exercise. As stated above, exercise has several health benefits to well-being. There are numerous studies that suggest that the environment is an important factor in exercise. Research indicates that a beautiful, green environment provides the best chances to inspire regular exercise and that individuals keep exercising for longer periods of time in natural surroundings. (Gezondheidsraad, 2004)
In summary, tests and studies have confirmed that physical activity with direct exposure to nature (green exercise) benefits people more than exercise in less natural environments. (Mitchell, 2013) There is plenty of evidence that claims that the natural environment can help reduce mental health issues, increase motivation for physical activity (which promotes health and well-being), redirect attention, improve concentration, increase self-control and self-esteem, and provide dependable and healthy coping skills. (Ferreira-Vorkapic, C., Feitoza, J. M., Marchioro, M., Simões, J., Kozasa, E., & Telles, S., 2015)
Bergouignan, A., Legget, K. T., De Jong, N., Kealey, E., Nikolovski, J., Groppel, J. L., & ... Bessesen, D. H. (2016). Effect of frequent interruptions of prolonged sitting on self-perceived levels of energy, mood, food cravings and cognitive function. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity, 13, 1-12.
Bowler, D. E., Buyung-Ali, L. M., Knight, T. M., & Pullin, A. S. (2010). A systematic review of evidence for the added benefits to health of exposure to natural environments. BMC Public Health, 10(1). doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-10-456
Brymer, E., & Gray, T. (2009). Dancing with nature: rhythm and harmony in extreme sport participation. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 9(2), 135–149. doi: 10.1080/14729670903116912
Ferreira-Vorkapic, C., Feitoza, J. M., Marchioro, M., Simões, J., Kozasa, E., & Telles, S. (2015). Are there benefits from teaching yoga at schools? A systematic review of randomized control trials of yoga-based interventions. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Ecam), 2015, 1-17.
Gezondheidsraad. (2004). Nature and health: the influence of nature on social, psychological and physical well-being. The Hague.
Hitchings, R., & Latham, A. (2017). Exercise and environment: New qualitative work to link popular practice and public health. Health & Place, 46, 300-306. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2017.04.009
Marselle, M., Irvine, K., & Warber, S. (2013). Walking for Well-Being: Are Group Walks in Certain Types of Natural Environments Better for Well-Being than Group Walks in Urban Environments? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(11), 5603–5628. doi: 10.3390/ijerph10115603
Mitchell, R. (2013). Is physical activity in natural environments better for mental health than physical activity in other environments? Social Science & Medicine, 91, 130–134. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.04.012
Olafsdottir, G., Cloke, P., & Vögele, C. (2017). Place, green exercise and stress: An exploration of lived experience and restorative effects. Health & Place, 46, 358-365.
Simon, H. B. (2015). Exercise and health: Dose and response, considering both ends of the curve. American Journal of Medicine, 128(11), 1171-1177.