Regularly doing physical activities in natural environments can prevent the development of non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and depression, new evidence has revealed.

Research conducted by the University of Exeter has discovered that being active in nature could combat just under 13,000 cases of non-communicable diseases a year in England, saving more than £100 million in treatment costs.

Non-communicable diseases are responsible for nearly three quarters of deaths around the world.

Otherwise known as chronic diseases, examples of non-communicable diseases include type 2 diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and stroke.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there will be around 500 million new cases of non-communicable disease by 2030, if the global population fails to increase their physical activity uptake.

In this study, the researchers examined the benefits of exercising on the beach and in the countryside, as well as in parks in towns and cities.

First author Dr James Grellier said: “We believe this is the first time an assessment like this has been conducted on a national scale and we’ve almost certainly underestimated the true value of nature-based physical activity in terms of disease prevention.

“Although we have focused on six of the most common non-communicable diseases, there are several less common diseases that can be prevented by physical activity, including other types of cancer and mental ill health.”

He added: “It’s important to note that our estimates represent annual costs. Since chronic diseases can affect people for many years, the overall value of physical activity at preventing each case is certainly much higher.”

To maintain good health, adults aged between 18 and 64 should attempt to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, according to the WHO.

Figures show that more than one quarter of adults around the world fail to meet these recommendations.

The research conducted by the University of Exeter has revealed that nature-based physical activity has the potential to combat 12,763 cases of non-communicable diseases.

Dr Grellier said: “For people without the access, desire, or confidence to take part in organised sports or fitness activities, nature-based physical activity is a far more widely available and informal option.

“We believe that our study should motivate decision-makers seeking to increase physical activity in the local population to invest in natural spaces, such as parks, to make it easier for people to be physically active.”

Read the study in the journal Environment International.

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