Over the last three years nearly 2000 people took part in 'Nature4Health' – a programme of healthy activities in local green spaces – and now evaluation shows that on average they saw a big boost to their wellbeing and an increase in their everyday physical activity.
The scheme, managed by The Mersey Forest and funded by The Big Lottery Fund's Reaching Communities Programme, began in
2015. Adults and children from all across Merseyside and North Cheshire signed up for twelve weeks of activities in the great outdoors, including healthy walking, conservation activities and mindfulness in nature.
The results of the evaluation
show that people who took part increased their levels of walking and moderate physical activity by over a third by the end of the twelve weeks. Participants also saw a significant improvement in their mental wellbeing, recorded by before and after surveys. The results are particularly significant because of the large number of participants.
The findings are in line with growing evidence that the natural environment is important to our health and wellbeing. The government calls for more 'green prescribing' in its recently published 25 Year Plan for the Environment
. The plan encourages the NHS to work more closely with environmental organisations to offer therapies such as gardening and outdoor exercise in natural settings to people with mild to moderate mental health conditions and who may be struggling to overcome loneliness and isolation.
Paul Nolan OBE, Director of the Mersey Forest commented:
"We've known for years that the local environment can be a powerful tool in improving wellbeing – and now with Nature4Health we've shown how that tool can be put into action, in real communities, at a large scale. We're looking forward to working with the NHS and local authorities to build on this success and help more people improve their everyday lives."
Quotes from people who took part in Nature4Health activities include:
"I've come off antibiotics after being on them for 20+ years due to a long term lung condition – the walking helps my breathing."
"I feel a lot healthier – I notice my knees feel a lot better. My breathing has improved- I am not panting or wheezing like I did when I first started."
"You meet new people and it is great for mental health and social activity. The comradeship of the group is important to me and we have a good group."
"Since I have been on the course I feel much more relaxed and I am starting to appreciate life again. I still have a long journey ahead, but I am beginning to cope a lot more"
Read the report