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  • Writer's pictureNancy Griffin

Physical Activity in Nature Prevents Chronic Diseases, Saves Costs

At reported volumes of nature-based physical activity in the UK, the researchers estimate exercise in nature prevented 12,763 cases of non-communicable diseases, creating annual healthcare savings of £108.7m (roughly $136 million).

Physical activity in natural environments prevents almost 13,000 cases of non-communicable (i.e., chronic) diseases a year in England and saves treatment costs of more than £100m ($125 million), a new study shows.

Using data from a representative cross-sectional survey of the English population, researchers estimated how many cases of six non-communicable diseases -- major depressive disorder, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, ischemic stroke, colon cancer, and breast cancer -- are prevented through nature-based recreational physical activity.

"We believe this is the first time an assessment like this has been conducted on a national scale and we've almost certainly underestimated the true value of nature-based physical activity in terms of disease prevention," said  Dr. James Grellier from the University of Exeter Medical School. "Although we have focused on six of the most common non-communicable diseases, there are several less common diseases that can be prevented by physical activity, including other types of cancer and mental ill health."

Population-representative data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey were analyzed to estimate the weekly volume of nature-based recreational physical activity by adults in England in 2019. Researchers used epidemiological dose-response data to calculate incident cases of the six non-communicable diseases prevented through nature-based physical activity, and estimated associated savings using published costs of healthcare, informal care, and productivity losses.

In 2019, 22-million adults in England ages 16 years or older visited natural environments at least once a week. At reported volumes of nature-based physical activity, the researchers estimate this prevented 12,763 cases of non-communicable diseases, creating annual healthcare savings of £108.7m (roughly $136 million).

"For people without the access, desire, or confidence to take part in organized sports or fitness activities, nature-based physical activity is a far more widely available and informal option," Grellier said. "We believe that our study should motivate decision-makers seeking to increase physical activity in the local population to invest in natural spaces, such as parks, to make it easier for people to be physically active."

To read the full article, published in Environment International, click here


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