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Crowded cities: health concerns grow

Crowded cities: health concerns grow as Brits admit to spending less than an hour a day outside.

Two in five (38%) adults in the UK spend less than an hour a day outdoors, with lack of access to green spaces having a knock-on effect on mental and physical health.

This is according to new research from leading health provider Bupa, which is calling for access and quality of shared outdoor spaces to be improved to boost the health and wellbeing of our people and planet.

The main barriers to getting outdoors are not having enough free time (15%) and having a busy job (13%), with people in cities such as Belfast (58%), Glasgow (47%) and Nottingham (44%) struggling the most to spend time outdoors each day.

Many people also struggle to access outdoor spaces, despite the known health benefits of being in nature including mindfulness, a better mood, reduced stress and anger, improved self-esteem and being more active1. This issue is more acute for city-dwellers2 and many do not have private gardens, making access to shared spaces patchier. More than half of Brits (52%) don’t have access to a park within walking distance and one in eight (12%) live over an hour away.

More than one in five (22%) say they have to drive to their nearest green space, which they feel are often unkept (30%) or run down (26%). They are also thought to be overcrowded (23%), possibly due to the number of public green spaces decreasing3.

The lack of outdoor space has a knock-on impact on our health. Nearly half of people say that their mental (47%) or physical (47%) health suffers if they spend too much time indoors, and want to increase their time outside to two and a half hours to get the maximum benefit.

With parks being as an important social setting in recent years, this data illustrates the importance of public green spaces for city-dwellers to gain the much-needed health benefits of being in nature.

Green spaces are crucial to the health of our cities, too: they create a cooling effect, providing relief from rising temperatures; support improving air quality by absorbing pollutants and releasing oxygen, and serve as miniature ecosystems, fostering biodiversity and supporting a variety of species and insects. All in all, enhancing the overall health and well-being of the urban population.

To promote a healthier environment, boost physical and mental health and kick-start long-term habits in their day-to-day lives, Bupa is launching its Healthy Cities initiative, encouraging people to incorporate daily movement into their routines throughout June.

Bupa people, partners and customers will undertake a 30-day walking challenge to support fundraising for green initiatives and kick-start the habit of getting outdoors every day. This will unlock funding for the Bupa Foundation to donate up to £750,000 to help regenerate local green spaces across the country, including via its new Green Community Grant scheme. Schools, charities and not-for-profits can apply for grants of up to £2,500 each for green projects throughout June.

Dr Elizabeth Rogers, Associate Clinical Director at Bupa Global & UK says: “Time spent outdoors in green spaces is hugely important to our overall wellbeing. Not only can it help boost mood, reduce stress and anger, it can support mindfulness, encourage people to get more active, feel connected with their local community and there’s even research to suggest it may make us smarter!

“It’s really important that people have access to outdoor space, especially if they’re living in more built-up urban areas where getting into nature can be difficult. Increased quality of green spaces also benefits the environment too. This reduces pollution, which we know has been linked to respiratory diseases, heart disease, and some cancers. By investing in green spaces, Bupa is supporting city-dwellers to gain the health benefits of a healthy planet.”

Paralympic Gold medallist Richard Whitehead MBE says: “Without access to parks and public green spaces, I doubt I would be in the same place in my career. They are vital to local communities offering people space to come together, connect, train and more. Bupa’s Healthy Cities initiative is giving people up and down the UK the opportunity to help rescue at risk spaces and restore them so they can continue to benefit from the many positives they provide.”

Anna Russell, Director of the Bupa Foundation says: “The Healthy Cities campaign is all about encouraging people to adopt healthy, long-term habits in their day to day lives, while preserving and regenerating green spaces. The health benefits of spending time in nature have long been understood, but it’s worrying to see so many obstacles preventing people from accessing these benefits.

“People health and planet health are inextricably linked, which is why it’s essential that we bring equal access to quality green space to people in cities, for everyone to get the wellbeing benefits of spending more time in nature. I urge people to apply for a Bupa Foundation Green Community Grant during June to boost investment in local, charitable projects such as tree planting, forest schools, allotments and regeneration projects.”

Dr Elizabeth Rogers continues by sharing tips for embracing the health benefits of being outdoors:

1. Prioritise Outdoor Time: Incorporate outdoor activities into your daily routine. Whether it’s in the morning, during lunch, or in the evening, find a time that works best for you. Starting the day with fresh air can set a positive tone, boost organisation and productivity, and alleviate stress before diving into other tasks.

2. Plan Your Route: Seek out nearby green spaces or routes that are away from busy roads. Avoiding pollution is a concern for many of us, so finding cleaner areas can enhance your outdoor experience. You might even discover new places on your doorstep that you didn’t know existed.

3. Engage Your Senses: Embrace mindfulness while outdoors by fully immersing yourself in the environment. Engage all your senses—observe the colours, listen to the sounds of nature, feel the textures around you, and appreciate the scents in the air. This practice can help you connect with nature on a deeper level and promote relaxation, increasing happiness and improved mood.

4. Exercise in Nature: Take advantage of the warmer weather by incorporating outdoor exercise into your routine. Aim for a certain amount of physical activity each day, such as walking, jogging, cycling, or any outdoor sports you enjoy. Exercising in nature not only benefits your physical health but also provides a refreshing change of scenery and boosts your mood.

5. Discover Outdoor Activities: Look for opportunities to go outside, whether it’s taking a work call whilst you stroll, reading a book in a peaceful spot, listening to a podcast, or meeting up with friends in an outdoor setting.

6. Create Small Outdoor Habits: Building habits is easier when we make them accessible. Instead of completely overhauling your routine, start with small steps. For instance, have your lunch outside instead of at your desk or enjoying dinner alfresco. These incremental changes can gradually form a habit of spending more time outdoors.

7. Advocate for Green Initiatives: If you are passionate about the environment and want to contribute further, consider applying for a Bupa Foundation Green Grant. This grant supports projects focused on promoting green spaces and initiatives that enhance the well-being of communities. By taking action and supporting these initiatives, you can actively contribute to a greener future.

Remember, embracing the outdoors is beneficial for your physical health as well as also promoting mental well-being and rejuvenation. So, step outside, and immerse yourself in the wonders of nature. Your mind and body will thank you!
To find out more, visit: https://www.groundwork.org.uk/bupa-foundation-green-grants/


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