Ireland to host groundbreaking conference on benefits of green spaces

Published by Lia Flattery on

August 24th, 2017

Irish and international researchers will meet in October at a ground-breaking conference to examine the psychological benefits of green exercise.

The MINDSCAPE conference on Nature-Based Solutions for Community and Campus Well-Being will explore how increased physical activity in natural spaces can benefit mental and physical health.

The conference will take place on 14 October at Clarisford Park, Killaloe and Wood & Bell Cafe Co.Clare.

Green exercise is a physical activity undertaken in natural environments, such as parks, greenways, blueways and the countryside.

Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the conference will bring together researchers, practitioners in outdoor sport, government agencies and multiple other stakeholders.

According to the conference convener, Dr Tadhg MacIntyre of the University of Limerick, “the psychological connection” that people have to natural spaces has been “somewhat overlooked”.

Dr MacIntyre is part of the GO GREEN EX, an international research initiative on green exercise at the University of Limerick that seek to improve the limited access to nature for urban dwellers.

He explained that a key goal of the conference is to develop “the future planning of nature-based solutions” for physical and psychological health problems.

The conference will also examine how best to use Ireland’s social and physical infrastructures to ensure that “people engage with nature and the environment more readily”, Dr MacIntyre added.

“Connection to nature is much more about hearts and minds than providing signage and mapping our local trails,” he added.

Keith Wood, chair of Healthy Ireland said that MINDSCAPE will be a “major step forward into unchartered territory” by bringing researchers and practitioners together.

He added that the initiative that will “pay dividends for the scientific community, campuses and cities, and ultimately the global environment”.

International Success

Physical exercise is well known to provide physical and psychological health benefits, but research has shown that exercise in natural settings can boost these benefits.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2016 concluded that human nature interactions are increasingly important to promote health and well-being due to increased urbanisation.

Studies have shown that people who live close to green spaces experience lower incidences of many common physical and mental health problems.

In 2009, a team of Dutch scientists found a lower rate of 15 diseases, including depression, anxiety, heart disease and diabetes, in people who lived within a half mile of green space.

Domestic Projects

Some Irish organisations are already engaged in the use of green exercise to promote mental as well as physical health.

The Woodlands for Health programme run by Coillte in partnership with the HSE Wicklow mental health services aims to improve the mental and physical health of participants be taking part in walking groups and outdoor activities.

A 2015 evaluation of the programme by the HSE and University College Dublin found that participants improved their mood by 75 per cent and sleep by up to 66 per cent.

The national Green Ribbon campaign to encourage people to talk openly about mental health problems also works with the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) to organise a series of annual ‘Let’s Walk and Talk’ forest walks for IFA members.

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Lia Flattery

Lía is a former writer and Deputy Editor at Trinity News. She also has a BA in History and English Literature from Trinity College Dublin.