The great outdoors

A campaign is to be launched to "prescribe" the outdoors to boost people's mental and physical health in the North-East.

Martin Shaw

A campaign is to be launched to "prescribe" the outdoors to boost people's mental and physical health in the North-East.

Natural England will be running its Green Prescriptions drive, which will involve setting up links with GPs and health bodies in the region and their countryside, environment and leisure counterparts.

The aim is to refer people for outdoors and countryside activities, events and walks to boost their health and help in recovery from illness.

Huw Davies, Natural England North-East health campaign manager, said "The prescription of expensive anti-depressant drugs is on the rise, while many of our urban green spaces - gardens and community greens - are under threat.

"Natural England is working to ensure that these high-quality green spaces are available for everyone to enjoy."

He said that there is mounting medical evidence showing that contact with the natural environment improves mental and physical health. Being more active and getting outdoors reduced stress and can prevent and reduce depression and anxiety while physical activity reduces the risk of up to 20 chronic diseases and disorders including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

Martin Shaw, Natural England regional senior specialist in health and the environment, will don a white coat and dispense green prescriptions to visitors to Newcastle Green Festival at the weekend.

He will be contacting regional health organisations to encourage referrals to include outdoor exercise and events.

"It will also be about finding ways of increasing people's confidence in using the countryside and distributing items like walks leaflets in places where people who would not normally take part in these activities can find them," said Mr Shaw.

The campaign will build on a green exercise pilot scheme in Gateshead to make use of local green space as a resource for encouraging people to take exercise to help improve their health.

The Gateshead scheme worked with people aged 16-24; families with young children and people suffering problems such as, stress, anxiety and depression.

After suffering a stroke two years ago, 55-year-old Andy Robertson has walked his way back towards recovery. Andy, who lives in the Byker Wall at Newcastle, enjoys twice-weekly outings with the East End Walks For All Group.

He said: "Part of my recuperation was to lose weight and change my lifestyle. The walking group is targeted at people who haven't being taking exercise and now we get 30 to 40 people taking part."

The group mixes local walks to places like Jesmond Dene and the riverfront with outings to the Northumbrian countryside.

Go green and you'll soon be in the pink

Green prescription advice includes:

* Spending just 15 minutes a day relaxing in green space will help gather your thoughts and will restore your concentration level;

* If you don't have a garden, plant a window box - seeing greenery improves your mood and sense of well-being;

* Enjoy a brisk 10 minutes' walk every morning and evening as part of your daily routine. This will energise your heart and lungs and immune system;

* At the weekend, take family or friends on a picnic to your nearest green space. Try your local country park or nature reserve;

* At work try to get out for a walk and eat your lunch in a park or garden when the weather allows;

* At least three times a week go for a brisk walk or a jog, preferably in green surroundings. It will make a great difference to general health and energise lungs and immune system;

* The outdoors has great health benefits to children. Get them away from the television and into green space. Children love exploring in woodland or forest. This can improve their development, co-ordination and can improve their behaviour;

* Join a local walking group;

* For where you can find green space and ways to enjoy it visit www.naturalengland.org.uk/campaigns /breathingplaces

It's time to go wild in your garden

Natural England will be urging people in the North-East this weekend to take up wildlife gardening.

Examples of wildlife gardens will be on show at the Newcastle Green Festival in Leazes Park and the Blaydon Burn Festival.

In the North-East, 47% of gardens are more than 75% paved. In addition back gardens are being used for "in filling" development, as well as paved or decked over.

But gardens offer homes to wildlife, help rainwater to drain off rapidly, cool urban temperatures, filter dust from air, reduce urban wind speeds and provide shade and a more relaxing atmosphere.

Natural England regional spokeswoman Jane Boaden said: "People could help to stem the damage to the environment caused by garden losses and help wildlife by taking a few simple actions."

Open spaces to enjoy

County Durham:

* Hamsterley Forest

* Low Barns nature reserve, Witton-le-Wear.

* Durham City riverside.

* Derwent Walk Country Park.

* County Durham heritage coast.

Tyne and Wear:

* Gibside.

* Jesmond Dene, Newcastle and Saltwell Park, Gateshead..

* Tyne Riverside Country Park, Newburn.

* The Leas, South Shields.

* Rising Sun Countryside Park, North Tyneside.

Northumberland:

* College and Breamish valleys, Cheviot Hills.

* Allen Banks.

* Hadrian's wall country.

* The Northumbrian coast.

* Kielder Water and Forest.

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