As children’s exercise levels fall, could green exercise be the answer?

A recent British Journal of sports medicine study which aimed to identify the timing of changes in physical activity during childhood and adolescence, outlined the timing of changes in physical activity across an 8-year period.

Using linear mixed models, four trajectories of change in total volume of physical activity were identified from children at ages 7, 9, 12 and 15 years old. Representing 100% of all participants: all trajectories declined from age 7 years, as physical activity dropped.

From the findings, it was concluded that future policy and research efforts were needed to promote physical activity should begin well before adolescence, and should include both boys and girls.

As we enter into spring, a cheap, healthy alternative to the gym and suitable for the whole family could be green exercise.

One major benefit of green exercise is that it boosts mental health. “Five minutes exercising in the countryside boosts mental health,” reported the Daily Telegraph. This was based on a meta-analysis of 10 studies from the University of Essex on the effect of outdoor exercise in green environments on self-esteem and mood.

The study found that exercising in wilderness areas or near water tended to have the biggest impact on mental state, and that the greatest health changes were seen in the young and mentally ill.

A cheaper alternative to the gym, green exercise is a good opportunity for the whole family – think the zoo, safari, farm, gardens, park, forest and beach – places that sometimes won’t even feel like exercise.

You are more likely to enjoy yourself outdoors, and occasionally, the sole purpose of physical activity should be ‘fun’ – nature often makes us think happy thoughts, and in turn those good feelings will make it more likely for you to keep it up.

Our bodies do not know the difference between a treadmill and a trail, or a weight or a stone/log – you are still getting fit and healthy regardless, so there is no harm lifting a few logs mid walk.

Getting outside adds variety and fun to your week. Instead of mindlessly exercising, green exercise enables you to view some spectacular sights at the same time, and get distracted from the fact you’re exercising by how good you feel. Mix it up by visiting a new place each weekend.

Green exercise does not involve a room full of people or any scrutinising, which takes the pressure off people who do not enjoy the gym due to their weight and insecurity issues. Take into account this level of embarrassment is often heightened in adolescent years, due to hormonal changes.

Dr White, lead author from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, said: “We know that many people with weight issues do not like going to the gym because they feel socially embarrassed, whereas a walk in the park does not have that stigma.”

If green exercise can help reduce inequalities in health for children and families alike, it could just be time to put that outdoor gym in your town park to the test.

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