Dr William Bird is a GP and a former advisor to Natural England. At our annual conference he described why the behaviour of our mitochondrias can be affected by nature walks.
The three pillars of wellbeing are people – a sense of community; place – whether you live in an environment that promotes wellbeing and purpose – what reasons you have to get up in the morning whether it’s family, job or volunteering.
When all three are working well, people are resilient and able to deal with the stresses of life – where they fail people begin to experience chronic stress.
Bird says ‘someone who is eating fries and a burger is treating their chronic stress; someone who is drinking is treating their chronic stress. When people, place and purpose go wrong the chronic stress causes mitochondrial damage and the increase – in turn of yet more unhealthy behaviour – which causes more stress. Mitochondrial damage is linked to the major diseases – cancer, cardiovascular disease and a very strong link to dementia. And if you have chronic stress you get depression as well.’ By contrast healthy mitochondrias are linked to slow ageing.
Green space can have a huge effect. A study in the Lancet two years ago showed that this is especially the case for those on low incomes. Wealthy people do only slightly better in a very green environment compared to a very urban space, those on the lowest income show a dramatic increase in likely health in the greenest spaces.
Walking for health has been set up in response to these findings. The volunteer led programme offers 3,800 walks each week. It has free training and insurance for volunteer walk leaders, and their database now has 100,000 people registered to lead walks.
Bird adds ‘for someone whose “people purpose place” has gone wrong something as simple as a walk can begin to have an effect, and that is where medicine and the work I do are aimed at the same thing’.