Ahead of the Natural Capital Initiative summit Valuing our Life Support Systems in London this November, Jules Pretty FSB, Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex, explores the links between our health and the environment.
Physical activity improves both mental and physical health, yet annually inactivity results in 1.9 million deaths worldwide annually, roughly 1 in 25 of all deaths.
Individual energy expenditure has fallen dramatically over the past half-century. Inactivity increases the likelihood of obesity, and is a key risk factor in many chronic diseases of later life. Individuals who do not engage in regular physical activity have a 20-30% increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD): in the UK, CVD accounts for 39% of all deaths (193,000 per year). The World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of all CVD deaths are preventable.
The term green exercise was coined to indicate the synergistic well-being benefits arising from activity in green places. We have shown that a “dose of nature” has a positive effect on mental health for a wide range of activities (e.g. walking, angling, cycling, gardening), for all age groups, for every habitat (with additional benefits from the presence of water), and for the already healthy and the mentally-ill. Forest bathing (walking) in Japan reduces blood pressure and salivary cortisol, with greater benefits for the elderly and those already with high blood pressure and other stress markers.
Swedish researchers have used the term non-exercise physical activity (NEPA) to focus attention on the health benefits of daily activities such as home repairs, mowing the lawn, car maintenance, bicycle rides, fishing and gathering wild foods: 60-year old Swedish men and women with high NEPA reduced the risk of first time CVD by 27% and all cause mortality by 30% over a 12.5 year period.
There are thus three options for maintaining an active body: i) activity at home or at the workplace/place of education; ii) activity during non-work leisure (e.g. sports, gym, gardening); and iii) active travel to and from work, education or leisure. Activity has declined in all these categories, and is thus having a negative impact on well-being.
Over the past four decades, there has been a gradual loss of active travel (walking, cycling), an increase in trip distance, and a rising proportion of the population travelling by car. Walking has become less prevalent. Over the past 15 years, the number of walking trips per year has fallen from 292 to 222, and time devoted fallen 22%. A fifth of adults walk only once per year for 20 minutes; a sixth of children never walk for this long.
Indicators of active travel, UK (Department of Transport, 2013)
|Indicators||Proportion of people|
|Proportion of adults walking for 20 minutes on 3 occasions per weekProportion of adults walking for 20 minutes on 1 occasion per week
Proportion of adults walking for 20 minutes less than once per year
Proportion of children never walking for 20 minutes at a time per year
Health and the environment is just one of the issues being explored at ‘Valuing our Life Support Systems’ natural capital summit on 6th & 7th November 2014, hosted by the British Library. Members of the Society of Biology are eligible for a 25% discount on registration for one day, and 20% off when you register for both days. Please contact us the NCI secretariat firstname.lastname@example.org for your exclusive discount code.
Jules Pretty’s new book, “The Edge of Extinction: Travels with Enduring People in Vanishing Lands” will be published in November 2014 by Cornell University Press, Ithaca.