Free treatment for obesity, heart disease, strokes and diabetes is available to millions of people close to their front door.
A regular walk in the park, in the woods or on a nature reserve, can significantly improve serious health problems. Research has shown It can also reduce the risk of suffering them in the first place.
Natural Fit, an RSPB study backed by the Faculty of Public Health, has revealed that contact with nature motivates people to be active, improving our all round well-being.
The RSPB is calling for two changes to government policy:
More government investment to give all of us easy access to green space – ministers should review the availability of green space, provide more where it is lacking and promote it as a venue for walking.
Cross-department liaison within government, to ensure that green space is incorporated into all new housing developments and encourages wildlife too. In existing towns and cities, brownfield land could be converted; the RSPB’s Old Moor Reserve, in an ex-coalfield area near Doncaster, now annually attracts 47,000 visitors.
Currently 22 per cent of the UK population, including 1.5 million children aged between 2 and 15 years are considered obese. Physical inactivity is amongst the causes of obesity, yet only 37 per cent of English men and 25 per cent of English women take regular exercise. Amongst young people, 39 per cent of boys and 58 per cent of girls in England, aged 7 to 18 years, are physically inactive.
Natural Fit reports that obesity costs the UK economy £8.2bn every year of which £1.7bn is NHS costs, £5.4bn is the cost of absence from work and £1bn is lost through early mortality.
It also highlights the importance of regular exercise for children in shaping their attitudes towards keeping fit.
Dr William Bird, a former GP, who set up the first Health Walk scheme* in the mid 1990s said:“Exercise in green spaces can significantly contribute to reducing or even preventing obesity. The countryside is a huge outpatient department, available for free, yet its therapeutic value is being ignored.”
Graham Wynne, RSPB’s Chief Executive, said: “It should be possible to re-create thousands of acres of disappearing wildlife habitats close to new homes, providing green space and health benefits for those living there, and areas in which declining wildlife can survive.”
Professor Rod Griffiths, President of the Faculty of Public Health said: “Obesity is a major and growing problem in the UK, so government health policy needs to include provision of safe green spaces in both urban and rural areas, to enable people to take more exercise.”
* There are now 350 such schemes run by 10,000 trained volunteers nationwide.