Now Go and Take Really Deep Lungfuls of Fresh Welsh Air; HEALTH WALES Wales' Natural Environment Should Be Nation's Greatest Outpatient Department

Article excerpt

Byline: Madeleine Brindley Health Editor

WALES' natural environment should become the country's "largest outpatient department", says a report.

The Countryside Council for Wales' document states that the natural environment can play a key role in improving public health and wellbeing.

Researchers from the Institute of Rural Wales spent a year studying what impact everything from allotments, urban parks, woodland and lakes to the countryside, mountains, rivers and sea has on health and well-being.

The Natural Heritage - A Pathway to Health report found that simply being able to access or view the great Welsh outdoors can help people to feel less stressed, more relaxed and better able to concentrate.

The research also found that the natural environment can help people recover from surgery, lower blood pressure, modify behaviour for people with dementia, improve mood, self-esteem and social wellbeing and improve the behaviour of over-active children.

Living near green space helps people stay healthier, live longer, be less likely to be obese and to shield children from stress.

And well-maintained green spaces in urban communities - where 80% of the UK population lives - were found to help reduce violence and crime, help with social interaction and increase community integration and support.

John Lloyd Jones, chairman of the Countryside Council for Wales, said: "The headlines from this report show that Wales' natural environment should be the nation's greatest outpatient department, but so often it remains under-utilised.

"Thousands of lives and millions of pounds could be saved if more people were physically active.

"CCW works with a range of national and local bodies to help improve access to and unlock the potential health benefits of the countryside in order to ensure the long-term health and well-being of all people in Wales. …