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November 2, 2017

Nature is good for you. Exercise is good for you. Getting exercise in nature is really good for you. And yet the people who could benefit most from nature are also those who are least likely to get out and use it.

In October we held the first ever South Downs Health & Wellbeing Conference to see what can be done to bridge this gap. Here are just a few of the things we learned:

  1. Nature is good for babies. A 2016 study showed that high blood pressure in pregnant women increases by 14% for every 300m they lived away from green space. Other research shows that birth weight and baby’s head size were larger within 500m of green space.
  2. Nature is good for everyone. There’s so much evidence out there for the benefits of green space and trees in improving cognitive performance, reducing stress, depression and visceral fat. Just looking at pictures of trees can make a difference but, good news for us, not as much as being out among trees or having someone talk to you about the trees.
  3. For nature-lovers it can be hard to imagine the barriers. Someone living in a very urban area could be as nervous of going for a walk in the countryside as someone from the country would be if they found themselves in an inner city estate.
    This has nothing to do with actual stats on safety but on each person’s perception of where they feel at home. Some folk are afraid of getting lost, some are afraid of not being fit enough, some think it’s just too difficult to get out, and for others the countryside just isn’t on their radar.
  4. Lecturing people doesn’t work. We all know that we should be getting off the bus one stop earlier, parking further away or taking the stairs. But do you actually do it? And why would someone who already feels miserable, make their life feel worse by getting off the bus one stop earlier or walking up the stairs with heavy shopping? Let alone going into the countryside for a walk!
  5. Distraction can help. There’s less to be afraid of if you make exercise outdoors incidental to the end goal. If you enjoy the social side of walking with other people to a place you actually like visiting then the exercise becomes invisible. The example given was ‘Bob’ who had type 2 diabetes and joined a supporters group who walked to Anfield football stadium every week. His passion and his favourite place in the world. He felt better and didn’t even know that he was taking exercise.
  6. Convenience is everything. People are more likely to use a green space on a regular basis if it’s less than five minutes’ walk away. And people who regularly use local green space are more likely to then go further afield – for example, visiting a national park. Unfortunately in south east England only 8%of people live within 300m of green space!
  7. There are some really inspiring people making the case for nature. If you ever get the chance to hear Dr William Bird, creator of Health Walks and the Green Gym, speak on the subject grab it with both hands. Having told us that sitting down was killing us we couldn’t help noticing that he only sat down once during the entire conference – and that was during his panel discussion.
    You can watch his talk now on the webcast below.
  8. Social prescribing can work. A group of health services in Surrey experimented with giving ‘wellbeing prescriptions’ with clients referred to trained Wellbeing Advisors – now available in all GP surgeries in the East Surrey CCG area. 93% of clients say they’ve found it useful or very useful, 88% say they’ve made a positive change as a result and 78% have visited their GP less since using the service.
  9. How the NHS actually works and how it’s changing. Watch this short film made by the King’s Fund, an independent health & care charity. It honestly does make it all a bit clearer.
  10. There is a lot of work to be done but we’re not alone. As a National Park Authority we can make changes through our planning system and green infrastructure work; through improving access; and through our communications and education work to make the National Park a friendly, welcoming and safe space. But we don’t have the resources or remit to achieve what’s needed by ourselves. We’re looking forward to working with Public Health England, educators, local authorities, health care experts and health care providers so that more of the people who really need nature are able to benefit from it in the South Downs National Park.

Watch key talks from the day now on our webcast