• Natural England – Interest grows in the benefits for being outside for health

    A new report out today (30 July) reveals that the English adult population made approximately 2.85 billion visits to the outdoors between March 2102 and February 2013. Our enthusiasm for spending time outside in the fresh air, relaxing and unwinding, watching wildlife and enjoying the scenery is also keeping us healthy – both physically and mentally.
    The latest ‘MONITOR OF ENGAGEMENT WITH THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT’ (MENE) fourth annual report contains a wealth of information about visits made to the natural environment by the English adult population including: who is using it, where we visit, what we do when we’re out there, and how experiencing the natural environment impacts on our behaviour, attitudes and general wellbeing.
    Since the very first MENE annual report was published, the proportion of people taking at least one visit to the outdoors in the previous week for health and exercise has increased significantly from 34 per cent in 2009 to 44 per cent in 2013. Respondents to the survey also consistently agreed that being out in the natural environment made them feel ‘calm and relaxed’ or ‘refreshed and revitalised’. The population groups who are most likely to make visits to the natural environment are those aged 25-64, those living in rural areas, people in employment, and those in the more affluent socio-economic groups.
    These visits are good for the economy too. Although around three quarters of visits are free and incur no spending whatsoever, the remainder have a tremendous economic impact. Last year, for example, the public spent an estimated £21 billion visiting the outdoors, with an average of £27 spent per visit for those which incurred expenditure. Around 54 pence in every pound was spent on food and drink, 14 pence on fuel, nine pence on admission fees, and six pence on gifts and souvenirs.
    The survey shows that green spaces near home are an important part of modern life. In total, 55 percent of the population claim to make one leisure visit or more to the outdoors every week. Visits tend to be taken close to where people live, with two thirds within two miles of home. The survey also shows that 92 per cent of people ‘agree’ that having green spaces close to where they live is important. Groups in the English population who don’t visit green spaces regularly are people aged 16-24, people in less affluent socio-economic groups and to a lesser extent those aged 65 and over.
    The evidence from MENE is being used by Public Health England to help local authorities identify priorities for greening their communities which will, in turn, improve people’s health and wellbeing. Other studies have shown that on average, one visit a week for between 10-60 minutes is enough to raise self-esteem – which is a facet of mental health [1]; while 10-15 minutes at least three times per week will allow the human body to synthesise enough vitamin D to supplement physiological health [2].
    Since it was first commissioned by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission in March 2009, the MENE survey has consistently provided useful and insightful baseline and trend data on how people use the natural environment in England. It is being used not just by conservationists, but by healthcare professionals and academics to underpin their work.

    Posted on 8th August 2013