Fresh air... the key to mental well-being?

WALKS across Somerset beauty spots could soon be officially recognised as a treatment for mental health problems, known as 'ecotherapy'. According to a study by mental health charity Mind, green exercise, such as conservation work, gardening and walking,

WALKS across Somerset beauty spots could soon be officially recognised as a treatment for mental health problems, known as 'ecotherapy'.According to a study by mental health charity Mind, green exercise, such as conservation work, gardening and walking, is a clinically valid treatment for mental distress and can help people suffering from illnesses such as depression.The charity is now pressurising the NHS to allow GPs to recommend ecotherapy as a legitimate treatment of mental illness.This could mean a cash boost for groups such as the Mendip Society, which runs an extensive programme of walks across the Mendip Hills and Somerset, including Axbridge and Cheddar.The society is now writing to Somerset Primary Care Trust (PCT) to appeal for ecotherapy to be recommended by GPs.Spokesman for the society, Gareth Jones, said: "We will certainly be pursing it. I'm a great believer that the fresh air and countryside can be a great healer."It gives you a different perspective when you see what a beautiful countryside we live in and helps reduce stress."This study can only be good news for anybody involved in organised walks."One member of the Mendip Society, who now leads organised walks for the group, says when he joined four years ago it helped him to get over the stress of his divorce.Pete Burchell, aged 53, of Winscombe, said: "Walking really helped me to get over the experience. By getting out of the house with a group of friendly people and walking, chatting, it just changed my perspective."Mind's study stated that nine out of 10 people who took part in green exercise programmes believed the activities benefited their mental health.The report said: "Ecotherapy is a natural, free and accessible treatment that boosts our mental well-being. Whether it's a horticultural development programme supervised by a therapist or a simple walk in the park, being outdoors and being active is proven to benefit our mental health." The PCT is also backing the move to get walks and outdoor activities recognised as a treatment and is hoping more funding will be made available to train up walk leaders.PCT spokeswoman Claire Warner said: "We have a whole range of activities available that are provided by voluntary organisations or the PCT that doctors can recommend, although they're not officially recognised as treatment yet."GPs can recommend activities to patients as well as library books, which can be borrowed on prescription, to help people understand depressions and maintain a healthy lifestyle."Walks give people the opportunity to get out of the house and get some exercise, meet new people and share experiences."We wholeheartedly support the recommendation and look to offering further opportunities should patients require them.


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