Green Exercise for People with Acute Mental Distress: A Review of the Literature

By Andrea Burns, Julia Bowman and Stefania Penkala.

Published by The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: March 7, 2014 $US5.00

Green exercise is defined as any physical activity that occurs in natural settings. Emerging research suggests the synergistic benefits of exercising while being exposed to nature has emotionally and mentally restorative properties—significantly more so than exercise alone. People with acute mental distress can have reoccurring admissions to in-patient psychiatric facilities. In-patient facilities are usually locked units and are often perceived as restrictive. Participation in green exercise programs in this setting has the potential to enhance consumers’ sense of space and freedom, and reduce anxiety and stress. Additional benefits may include improved mood, sense of achievement, and opportunities for social interaction and community connectedness. Further, the physiological benefits gained from participation in green exercise are important for this population. People with mental distress mostly have sedentary lifestyles and use medications with side effects including weight gain, placing them at increased risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Despite the potential benefits of green exercise, little research has specifically looked at its impact for people with mental distress in acute psychiatric settings. Research in this area is warranted to promote best practice. Psychiatric facilities providing consumers with opportunities to gain knowledge and learn skills to manage their own symptoms, and increase their sense of personal control and self-efficacy, are aligned with the tenants of positive psychology and the recovery framework. Green exercise can be used as strategy to meet such goals.

Keywords: Green Exercise, In-patient Psychiatric Facility, Mental Distress, Physical Activity

The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, Volume 3, Issue 3, March 2014, pp.85-97. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: March 7, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 464.068KB)).

Andrea Burns

Occupational Therapist, Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit , The Sutherland Hospital, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Andrea is an occupational therapist in the Mental Health Rehabilitation Unit at the Sutherland Hospital, Australia, who has worked in both inpatient and community mental health settings. Her current role in inpatient mental health rehabilitation involves assisting people with severe mental illness to improve their function in activities of daily living and explore meaningful activities in the community to promote recovery, independence, and social inclusion. Andrea has particular interest in promoting and facilitating physical health initiatives and strategies for people with mental illness and has developed a range of group and individual interventions addressing physical activity, nutrition, smoking cessation and living a balanced lifestyle. Andrea is currently studying a Master of Applied Science (Honours) at the University of Western Sydney, with a focus on exploring the experiences of participating in a green exercise program in an inpatient psychiatric facility.

Dr. Julia Bowman

Senior Lecturer, School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney, Australia

Dr. Stefania Penkala

Lecturer, School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney, Australia