Green exercise lowers blood pressure in children
Green exercise refers to physical exercise undertaken in natural environments. The benefits of engaging in regular physical activity are well publicized. The majority of children do not engage in sufficient physical activity for health benefit with approximately 23%–34% of males and 35%–53% and of females aged 11–15 years failing to meet the daily recommendation of 60 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
As a result there is a need to develop activities that can be used to increase physical activity and promote healthy weight in children and adolescents. Green exercise” is one form of intervention which may offer multiple health benefits for those who participate in it and may be particularly attractive to children, according to the study’s background.
Consequently, there is a need to investigate the benefits of introducing green exercise for different populations and using different types, durations and intensities of exercise. With that in mind researchers led by Dr. Michael Duncan, PhD, associate head of the Department of Applied Sciences and Health at Coventry University, goal of this study was exploratory and sought to examine the effect on blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR) and mood state responses in primary school children of moderate intensity cycling whilst viewing a green environment compared to exercise alone.
For the study 14 children (7 boys, 7 girls), average age 10.1 years agreed to participate. Children were selected from school year 5 (ages 9–10) in one primary school in Coventry, United Kingdom. Among the children seven boys and girls were considered normal weight and seven boys and girls considered overweight or obese.
All participants completed two trials each that were separated by at least 24 hours. In one trial participants cycled for15 minutes at a moderate intensity (Control). In the control condition, participants cycled while viewing a blank screen. In the other trial, participants cycled for 15 min whilst watching a film of cycling in a forest environment.
The researchers found that after the 'green exercise' the children's post-activity blood pressure was significantly lower than it was without the simulated forest environment, indicating that the nature scenes promoted positive health effects.
Data showed that the children's mean systolic blood pressure -- the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats -- was 97.2 mmHg a quarter of an hour after green exercise, compared with 102.7 mmHg after normal activity (over 5 % lower).
Lower blood pressure is usually linked with a lower risk of developing health problems, whereas hypertension is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
In their conclusion the researchers write “This study examined the effects of green exercise compared to exercise alone on BP, HR and mood state data in children. The present study identifies an augmented post-exercise hypotensive effect for children following green exercise compared to exercise alone.
Dr. Duncan commented “Hypertension is a chronic health problem across the world, so given the results we've seen in our study it's crucial that we continue to try to understand the role physical activity and -- in particular -- green exercise plays in blood pressure.
"If there is indeed a correlation between viewing scenes of nature and a lower blood pressure post exercise, as indicated by our data, it could have very positive implications in encouraging public health practitioners to prescribe outdoor exercise to reduce health risk."
This study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.