Social Interventions: Environment

Natural spaces

The extension of exercise therapy to gardening has proven unexpectedly fruitful, with many a carbon addict helped on the road to recovery by referral to a community allotment scheme or Green Gym.

Exercise is of course commonly used in management of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and is known to be as effective as SSRIs in treatment of major depression [11]. But CDS experts have now confirmed that certain exercise programmes derive additional therapeutic value from the exposure of the recovering addict to natural outdoor spaces [3],[4].

The healing properties of green spaces have been shown even to penetrate hospital windows, and include:

  • •  speeding recovery after elective surgery
  • •  restoring attention in cancer patients
  • •  improving concentration and coping skills
  • •  maintaining strength, mobility and social interaction in the elderly (by tempting them outdoors)
  • •  supporting recovery from depression and anxiety
  • •  protection from heat exhaustion in vulnerable groups (a formal recommendation of the NHS Heatwave Plan)
  • •  carbon capture and storage
  • [2],[5],[6],[9],[12],[13]

Neighbourhood design

After early excitement at the benefits of active travel, health promotion units began to be frustrated at the low uptake in certain areas. Groundbreaking research has since identified a number of design measures, which can significantly improve success rates. Planners report unusual encounters with excited public health specialists, talking feverishly of

  • •  mixing housing, recreation and work areas,
  • •  reducing distances to local facilities,
  • •  making streets more attractive, and adding pavements,
  • •  discouraging traffic. [8],[10]

Even the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) has joined the furore, pronouncing authoratitively on “creation of physical environments that support increased physical activity”, and encouraging public health officials to infiltrate planning committees [1].