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Enjoying the green

By Massie Santos Ballon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:57:00 12/22/2007

Filed Under: Environmental Issues, Recreational & Sports goods, Lifestyle & Leisure

MANILA, Philippines?For the past decade or so, I?ve watched children chasing their friends, climbing up and down playground equipment inside malls or watching fountains gush from mall floors. I can?t help but remember that when I was about the same age, I was on weekend family picnics that included riding rental bikes (especially the sidecars with the FM radios) around the CCP Complex.

The indoor mentality seems to grow stronger over time. Based on the number of buses seen waiting in the parking lots of malls and other large shopping centers at various weekdays over the past few years, class field trips seem to gravitate toward indoor activities like shopping instead of actually exploring fields and parks.

Though students, teachers and chaperones alike arguably do a good deal of walking to hit every store on each floor?from one end of the mall to the other?they?re not taking advantage of the views outdoors.

For safety reasons

Perhaps the choice to stay indoors isn?t influenced by electronics such as computers and video games. In previous studies, many parents who fondly remembered playing outside as youngsters??when they were able to explore nature without fear of accident or crime,? is how Thompson?s team worded it in their paper?said they now keep their own children indoors for safety reasons.

Still, with obesity rates rising worldwide, urban and environmental planners have been working on ways to get people, especially children and teenagers, outside more often.

A good reason

There?s a good reason for wanting to instill the urge to explore nature early on. In the January 2008 issue of the journal Environment and Behavior, landscape architects in Scotland suggest that regular childhood visits to the woods or similarly green places influence adult attitudes toward these same areas.

The work was done by Catherine Ward Thompson from the Edinburgh College of Art together with Peter Aspinall and Alicia Montarzino from the Heriot-Watt University.

To reduce health concerns that come with sedentary lifestyles, many public health officials have advocated activities such as visiting local parks and walking instead of driving around local communities. Not only do visitors get to exercise, say the authorities, but they can also mentally relax surrounded by the trees and grass.

2 studies

Thompson and her colleagues based their report on two studies done in separate areas of Britain. From 2000 to 2002, the researchers conducted surveys in the rural and mining areas of central Scotland to see how important residents considered the woods and who used them. Questionnaires were filled out in public areas such as shopping centers.

In 2003, they surveyed users of parks and national reserves in communities ranging from rural to urban in the East Midlands of England. As a representative wooded area in the locality, one place where questionnaires were filled out was Sherwood Forest, better known in books and movies as the home of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Despite the caveats about the demographics of the survey respondents, the survey results from both locales were similar. A majority of the people who had regularly gone at least weekly to green spaces as children were regular visitors to such areas as adults. Proximity to parks and nature reserves had been a factor in these visits.

And so, as the song goes, this is Christmas. Between the parties and the presents, take a walk to the nearest park and enjoy what naturally grows there. There?s time to decide if it?s a habit worth forming while you?re working off a few dessert calories. In the meantime, enjoy the fresh air before the next year is welcomed with firecrackers.

* * *

E-mail the author at massie@massie.com.

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