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How exercise boosts mental health, keeps pain disorder at bay

By Editor   |   10 May 2010   |   3:11 pm  
NEW research from the United Kingdom (UK) suggests that just five minutes of “green” exercise a day benefits people’s mood, self-esteem and mental health: In fact, they found this small dose produced the largest positive effect.

Dr. Jo Barton and Prof. Jules Pretty from the University of Essex conducted into how a walk a day might keep the doctor away, in Environmental Science and Technology.

Pretty, who is professor of Environment and Society at Essex, told the media that: “For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health.”

Barton, a Senior Researcher and Lecturer at Essex, said encouraging people to take a walk a day would help keep the doctor away and save the country money.

“There is a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to ‘self -medicate’ more with green exercise,” she added.

Also, a new study suggests that women who are overweight or obese appear to have an increased risk of developing the chronic pain syndrome known as fibromyalgia.

If they are also sedentary, the risk is even greater, said lead researcher Paul Mork, of Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway.

The study is published in the May issue of Arthritis Care & Research.

Fibromyalgia is marked by widespread pain lasting more than three months. The pain strikes so-called “tender points” in the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms and legs.

The condition is also marked by fatigue without apparent cause, mood disturbances, sleep problems and headaches. More women than men have it, and experts don’t thoroughly understand its cause.

The condition may be due to dysfunction in the nervous system and other problems, and it is thought to be affected by genetic susceptibility.

In the new study, Mork and his colleagues turned to a database of nearly 16,000 women in Norway who had responded to health surveys. Among the participants were 380 who developed fibromyalgia during the 11-year follow-up.

Mork’s team compared the data from patients with the healthy respondents, including body-mass index (BMI) and exercise habits. Exercise and a healthy body weight were found to be protective.

Barton and Pretty had already established in earlier studies that links existed between green exercise, which they defined as activity in the presence of nature, and long term health benefits, but this meta-analytical study (a study that pools and re-analyses results from other studies as if they came from one large one) is the first to measure what the best exposure “dose” might be.

For their research they pooled data covering 1,252 participants of varying ages, gender, and mental health status, drawn from 10 UK studies covering outdoor activities like gardening, walking, cycling, boating, fishing, horse riding and farming that showed green exercise was linked to improved mental and physical health.



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