Dr Eddie Murphy, Psychologist and Operation Transformation expert, has some advice for Laois readers.
Ireland’s clean, fresh air and lush green landscapes attract millions of visitors every year and our natural, unspoilt environment is famous throughout the world.
However as a nation, do we value enough the natural resources such as the lakes, the hills, the tracks and trails in our communities?
The community of Killaloe Ballina is now known as a healthy community and is embracing what the natural environment has to offer and immersing in it to help increase physical and mental wellbeing.
The scenic beauty on their doorstep is breathtaking, an 18th century bridge linking between the two communities and arching over Lough Derg, the 3rd largest lake in Ireland.
With the backdrop of hills and its indented shores, well-formed bays and abundant small islands, you can see why the community is exploring it more.
Arriving in Killaloe, I spoke with local exercise psychologist Nollaig O’ Sullivan about the healthy Killaloe Ballina initiative.
She recounted how “Creating a legacy for the community of Killaloe Ballina where the health of everyone is embraced within the community focusing on physical & mental wellbeing.
This is not about what the government can do for us, this is a question we should ask ourselves, how can I increase my wellbeing, the wellbeing for my family, for my neighbours, for my community.
This is the question we need to ask ourselves: What can I do to increase health and wellbeing at a local level?”
Embracing green exercise is an essential in every community.
Green & blue exercise
Green & Blue exercise refers to the many positive physiological and psychological benefits of exercising in natural environments of nature and water.
Benefits of green exercise can be found from as little as exposure to a group of trees in a backyard or as vast as being in a complete wilderness setting.
Green exercise can have a positive effect on our mental and physical health; it can help increase our wellbeing, our energy levels and our self-esteem and it can also help reduce tension, depression and anxiety.
It can impact on our body such as significantly reduced blood pressure, significantly enhanced human immune function and reduced levels of stress hormones.
Programmes ran in the Healthy Killaloe Ballina initiative embraced green exercise, one such programme was the couch to mountain top, a 10 week programme that embraced all things green.
It started with a 2 km walk in the local Clarisford park, a prime wildlife conservation area in Ireland, from here they progressed to Ballycuggaran forest, a dense forest trail with the final climb to the highest point in Clare, Moylussa mountain.
Local people who lived all their lives in the locality and who had never been to Moylussa took on the challenge and embraced the physical benefits and wellbeing benefits of green exercise.
People from the community joined in to support and celebrate the achievement of the people taking part in the 10 week programme, and that is what green exercise is about.
Green exercise has shown to build upon social interaction and foster a sense of social inclusion and social connectedness, which is evident in the community spirit in this town.
Indeed over a 12-month period, results showed a 7% increase in the community rating their health as Very Good and 76% of people choosing to exercise outdoors relative to indoors, embracing green exercise.
Green exercise has been suggested to be more beneficial than other types of exercise, for example running in a park compared to the same exercise in an urban environment has shown to have more positive effects.
Outdoor activity is more effective in improving mood in comparison to that of an indoor activity which has shown increases in frustration, anger and sadness.
To reap the benefits of green exercise, it does not require participating in high endurance levels of physical activity, a simple walk or a stroll within the natural environment can obtain positive benefits.
The idea of visiting a natural environmental area and reaping the health benefits is not new, it was developed in Japan in 1980’s and known as Shinrin-yoku, a term that means "forest bathing." and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
With physical inactivity been recognised as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, encouraging physically active lifestyles is critical for us all and green exercise can hold the key.
The positive physical and psychological effects of exercising in green environments can inspire policymakers and can be seen as an important component of the health promoting environment.
How can we increase our health and wellbeing? It is on your doorstep, it is readily available, it’s low cost and low risk and can aid in addressing physical and mental health issues.
Start exploring today, see what is on your doorstep, and what health benefits you can reap from stepping out into the natural environment in your community.
The challenge is for every community to look at is health and wellbeing. Get active, find like-minded people and leave a legacy of health and wellbeing for your community through Green and Blue Exercise.