In this blog I have made reference to the fact that exercise and physical activity can be identified as a key form of therapy, or treatment, to a number of health conditions- (see ‘Exercise should be a ‘standard part of cancer care’’ and ‘Activity, health and the environment’). Specifically I have linked these to the assertion that the natural environment is the most appropriate place for undertaking such activity, and advocated the accessibility and protection of such outdoor spaces as a social (as well as potentially financially) benefit to society. Additionally I have made reference to the fact that our shift to a car based society has had negative consequences for levels of activity and exercise, as well as several other issues (although, and I don’t think I have, given the impression that I am just a ‘motorist basher’!).
However, two further BBC reports this week again highlighted these issues in a health context.
The article ‘Garden therapy could bear fruit for dementia care’ highlights the therapeutic, and potential physical, benefits access to a simple outdoor activity such as gardening can have for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Additionally, the piece ‘Car fumes ‘raise heart attack risk for six-hour window’’ discusses a study published in the British Health Journal that concludes that while pollution and car fumes are not necessarily factors which cause heart attacks, they can be triggers, or inducers, of such cardiac traumas amongst individuals who suffer from heart disease.
In these examples, the former describes the potential health benefits of accessible green space for suffers of such a condition as dementia, whereas the later makes reference to the risks and potential dangers long term exposure to pollution and traffic fumes could have on those with heart disease. These two examples seem to typify a message which is backed up by a number of studies, empirical and anecdotal: from a health perspective, protection of, and increased access to, green space and the environment has significant positive consequences. Acceptance, and increased development of, a society which undermines the natural environment in favour of infrastructure, motorised transport and the general consumption of natural spaces may well be putting many vulnerable people at significant risk.
This BBC article discusses a recent Macmillan Cancer Support report that backs physical exercise for patients and cancer survivors as a way of reducing the risk of dying from the disease, to minimise the side effects of treatment, and combat the likelihood of their condition returning.
While, and as discussed before in my post ‘Activity, health and the environment’, undertaking regular physical exercise has been well publicised as a method of preventing the onset of many diseases and conditions (including some cancers). However, this report is interesting in that it promotes exercise for patients and survivors of cancers- ie that physical exercise can be the treatment as well as the preventer of such conditions- which, in fact, contradicts traditional advice and recommendations that favoured rest as the best course of action. As the article states:
Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and a leading clinical oncologist said: “The advice that I would have previously given to one of my patients would have been to ‘take it easy’.”
However, the research shows that, in fact, much more benefit is achieved from physical activity (at an appropriate level for each individual) as a method of treatment and therapy. Her quote from the article coveys how significantly she thinks the benefits of physical activity should be communicated,
“This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines.”
and is in line with my previously discussed ideas about how we should value physical exercise, communicate its health virtues, and ensure we do as much as possible to encourage and foster it as a lifestyle habit amongst the general population.
To connect these points back to how I see a particular aspect of the environment is significantly related to this- it is quite clear that safe, attractive, and accessible space is available for cancer patients and survivors to allow them to undertake appropriate regular physical activity. The gruelling and energy-sapping ordeal that so many cancers are, and as are the side-effects of their treatments, makes undertaking strenuous physical exercise a difficult, and often unrealistic, option for patients and survivors. However, and as the article notes, even relatively moderate and simple forms of exercise can help achieve the associated benefits- as put forward by Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support:
“It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous, doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim, all count.”
As alluded to in my previous posts on this subject, and evident in the above quote, it is often the outside environment which offers the most suitable location for undertaking such activities. Protecting and developing places of outdoor recreation and green space in our towns and cities can raise the likelihood that the general population will lead healthy lives. However, further to this, it can also offer the people who have survived some of the most harrowing and difficult health conditions that cancer has affiliated upon them, the opportunities and provision to undertake a form of treatment that may mean they do not have to suffer a relapse of such an experience. We, as society, surely owe them that.
To follow up from yesterday’s post, the attached link from the Independent newspaper discusses the issues of getting children active in light of the government proposals on physical activity. Reading through the content of the article, and the advice on activities for kids, the theme of utilising the natural environment is consistent- from getting out to the garden, to using local green spaces, and to active holidays….
Additionally, related to all of this, is the Sustrans (who are the UK’s biggest sustainable and active travel charity) ‘Free Range Kids’ campaign. Its focus is on getting kids being active in what is their natural environment- outside. Take this simple, and quite sad stat that Sustrans present as an indication of how things have changed in the last few decades:
“In 1973, 75% of children played on the streets around their home. By 2006 this had reduced to 15%.”
There are numerous issues and reasons why children are not being active out of doors- attraction of new technology for entertainment, safety concerns, access to suitable green space. For parents, and other guardians over children (teachers, etc), these are understandable issues. However, if we want to promote the health issues and benefits associated with physical activity, and see the natural environment key to allowing this, then reversing this trend is crucial. The Sustrans ‘Free Range Kids’ campaign looks to do this, and, as such, is organising an Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament to promote their campaign. If you are interested in lending your support- head to the campaign website which provides a simple template letter/email and details of how you can get in touch with your local MP to voice your support for the EDM as it is brought up in Parliament right now.