Friday, March 21, 2008

Ecotherapy and City Living

Walking in nature is good for your health.

In 2007 the UK mental health charity known as Mind released the results of a study into the health effects of nature connecting. The study was conducted specifically on the impact of green exercise among people with mental health problems and involved a comparison between ecotherapy - a walk in the country and retail therapy - a walk in an indoor shopping centre.

There was a startling difference between the two environments, natural, outdoor and constructed, indoor. 71 percent of participants reported a decrease in depression after walking in the country; they felt less tense and had higher self-esteem. In contrast, walking in the shopping centre led to 22 percent reporting an increase in depression, 33 percent felt no change, and half said their levels of tension had increased. Paradoxically, an equal number of respondents, 44.5 percent, said their mood had improved at the shopping centre while the others' mood had worsened.

There is substantial evidence to show that exercise in outdoor environments enhances physical and mental health. In Mind's survey, 90 percent of respondents claimed it was the combination of nature and exercise that made the difference.

In an article titled Conserving Land; Preserving Human Health, Howard Frumkin and Richard Louv (2007) argue that there is an effective relationship between public health outcomes and the provision of green spaces. They outline that connecting with nature is a significant indicator of positive health and quality of life, while a lack of green spaces can lead to poorer outcomes in both health and life quality.s

Making a plea for an increase in public parks especially in urban areas, Frumkin and Louv state: 'We need to promote land conservation as a way to advance public health, both for people today and for future generations.' Theirs is a widespread all encompassing dream that embraces the future for earth and humanity.

'More than anything, we need a vision of healthy, wholesome places, a vision that extends from densely settled cities to remote rural spreads, from the present to the future, from the most fortunate among us to the least fortunate, from the youngest child to the oldest adult. ... Such places will promote our health, enhance our well-being, nourish our spirits, and steward the beauty and resources of the natural world.'

In this picture spirituality and aesthetics go hand in hand with urban planning, resource management, public health policy and the provision of open natural places in urban areas. Its intention is to create healthy cities and healthy populations.

This issue is also at the forefront of a study by the CSIRO into the links between greening the city and a healthy population. Australia is 'one of the most urbanised countries in the world' with most people living in urban and suburban communities (Pyper, 2004) and the recent rush for development has placed 'enormous pressure' on present and future sustainability. The CSIRO study Greener Cities, Healthier People cites overseas studies which demonstrate that greenspaces provide 'environmental, economic and quality of life benefits for individuals and local communities'.

The World Health Organization has predicted that depression will be the second greatest cause of global ill health by 2020. The test is whether planners and politicians in Brisbane and elsewhere take heed of the research and implement the dream of Frumkin and Louv to protect environmental quality and as a result, to protect and promote public health.

Frumkin H and R Louv, 2007, Conserving Land, Conserving Health, Land Trust Alliance,
Mind, 2007, Ecotherapy – the green agenda for mental health, London, Mind,
Pyper W, 2004, Do greener cities mean healthier people?, National Year of the Built Environment - 2004, Ecos, Apr-June, 9-11,