Our research team, aligned with the Health Research Institute, at the University of Limerick was joined joined by our collaborators Prof. Marc Jones, Dr. Christopher
Gidlow (both Centre for Sport, Health and Exercise Research, Staffordshire University), Dr. Andy Lane and Dr. Ross Cloak (Institute of Sport, University of Wolverhampton), Dr. Noel Brick (Psychology Research Institute,Ulster University) and Dr. Aoife Donnelly (School of Food Science and Environmental Health, Dublin Institute of Technology) on the 21st and 22nd of June for our outreach public talks, research meetings and a well earned dose of green exercise. Support from our research partners from Clarisford Park, Caroline Madden and Keith Wood, Laois Sports Partnership, including Caroline Myers and from Mental Health Ireland, Finola Colgan and Karen Gilligan, was integral to our two days of activity: “Working with Mental Health Ireland, Clarisford Park and the Local Sport Partnerships is the key to unlocking barriers to engaging in green exercise” -Dr. Tadhg MacIntyre, lead on the GO GREEN EX Research team. The acronym stands for Going Outdoors: Gathering Research Evidence on the ENvironment and Exercise. We are working with our partners to develop community based interventions based on evidence based practice so we are interested in the underlying mechanisms so we can optimise interventions for well being and health.
Marc Jones, Professor of Stress and Emotion, gave an insightful one-hour talk on “Managing Your Emotions Through Green Exercise” in Portlaoise Parish Centre on June
21st. This public talk detailed some of the research that he is involved in at Staffordshire University as part of the EU FP7 funded project on nature and well being. For example, their findings showed that walking in rural environments had a greater positive effect on emotions than walking in more urban environments: “The evidence to date supports the additive effect of nature on exercise in terms of positive mood and attention restoration. The impact on our physiological responses is less clear.” It was encouraging to finally see the benefits of green exercise being supported by robust scientific research. Most importantly, exercising in green environments or green spaces located near waterways, for only twenty minutes had positive effects on both mind and body. Following Prof. Marc Jones’ intriguing talk on green exercise, Dr. Giles Warrington of PESS, University of Limerick, chaired a Q & A session that provoked some very interesting discussions regarding green exercise and its positive, synergistic effects. The discussions included the use of forest bathing to reduce stress, how best to promote green exercise and the interaction between experiencing nature and changing our attitudes towards it. According to Dr. Aoife Donnelly in all probability “green exercise is going to have a positive effect on the environment although there are many different ways to quantify it. It’s unlikely to have have a negative impact. If we can show that it has an additive positive effect on well being compared to exercise in other settings then that’s great too. In terms of the environment and encouraging pro-environmental behavior it’s a good thing.”
Subsequently, Eoghan McNeill (MSc.) and Barry O’Connell, PhD and MSc., postgraduate students at the University of Limerick, presented a series of three case studies involving the community in Portlaoise and environs. They used interviews with three individuals to create a narrative underlying the positive effects of exercising outdoors through the participants’ own voices. It was interesting to hear about the profound impact that green exercise had had on their lives. The case study included local man Donie Molloy, who set up the Port Trail walking group just over a year ago. The walking group has grown in strength and now sees more than a dozen people participating weekly. Donie has seen people come out of their shells and be more socially interactive as a result of the Port Trail Walking group. Local man John Bolton and founder of True Fitness also featured in the case study presentation. John is an avid kayaker and advocate of exercising outdoors. He has kayaked around Ireland and he believes that green exercise can have huge benefits for people of all ages through “valuable and memorable experiences and memories, as well as developing people physically and mentally.” Finally, the story of Michael G Phelan from the Woodenbridge Canoe Club was articulated. He has always been involved in exercising outdoors from an early age and finds that the outdoors provides a sporting outlet for young people that are not as interested in the more general sports of GAA, rugby and soccer. The feedback that Michael has received has been positive with the community finding kayaking a great way to build confidence and resilience.
On the 22nd of June, the research team journeyed to Clarisford Park to see the wonderful work that has been done by Keith Wood, Caroline Madden, Nollaig O’Sullivan and the rest of the team at Clarisford. The team enjoyed a 20-minute walk in the park; long enough to enhance their mood and experience the benefits of green exercise for themselves. The park is located just outside Killaloe, surrounded by beautiful scenery of the trees, hills and Lough Derg. There is a trail in the park that is ideal for running and walking; this makes Clarisford a very accessible and enjoyable place to exercise in. Dr. Aoife Donnelly of Dublin Institute of Technology commented that “We are in the perfect position to study green exercise in the wild west of Ireland even with persistent gales and exceptionally stormy seas, beautiful coastal views can keep us all feeling positive and improve mental health and well-being.” The benefits to the community have been immense and have encouraged green exercise in the area. Keith Wood’s vision for the park involves its expansion into the greater area of Killaloe, linking with one of the river walks. Clarisford Park is a prime example of how green exercise can benefit local communities and will hopefully inspire other communities to create a similar environment to facilitate green exercise and to promote a sustainable environment. Dr. Aoife Donnelly noted that “citizen science is quite a desirable thing, and in any of the work that we are conducting it’s something that we will consider.” Keith Wood explained how Clarisford Park has “become the natural place for people to come when they drop their kids off at school, they come down and walk or run around in here.” He understands the importance of gathering of data and conducting research in the area of green exercise: “Where the academics and scientists come in is we need the data, we need the evaluations all the time to say we are getting healthier, to say that if you do this, you’ll get healthier, both in body and mind, to say that actually we have a pilot done, we have a group done. We can say we can make a material, a difference, a benefit to that group of people.” Over the coming weeks, GoGreenEx is developing preliminary guidelines for engaging in green exercise and we will be launching the final version in August. The future is green, green exercise.