Hiker and skier Dr Lesley Topping works in general practice in Hamilton, while Dr Kim Hurst is a Hutt Valley-based GP who enjoys trail running and mountain biking.
Commenting on the Conservation Week 2020 theme of “Nature through new eyes”, and its emphasis on well-being through connecting with the natural environment, the two doctors both urge patients to spend time in the outdoors – and advocate for active lifestyles involving experiences and exercise in nature.
“I often discuss the benefits of spending time outdoors and/or exercising for patients,” Dr Kim Hurst says. “Some try it for the first time and get hooked.”
Dr Lesley Topping, a GP since 1981, considers time in the outdoors essential to her personal well-being, and says people “weren’t built for sitting on their backsides all day”.
“Each person should find what they enjoy, and do it as often as they can manage, whether in small bites or, from time to time, pushing themselves harder,” she says.
“Making a walk in the bush into a voyage of family fun and exploration, brings colour to cheeks, smiles to lips, and settles restless kids too.
“Enjoyment is key – whether alone or with like-minded others, whether finding the time to quietly think… or laugh and socialise or love a dog! A good day out in nature, whether it is sea, river, bush, or snow wakes me up and makes me fully alive… though often satisfyingly tired!
“If I am not reasonably fit my body becomes slow and lazy and sort of toxic; and my mind too!” says Dr Lesley Tipping.
The two doctors say research demonstrates the value of time spent in nature. A British Journal of Psychiatry journal paper states: “Simple exposure to nature environments is psychologically restorative and has beneficial influences on individuals’ emotions and ability to reflect on life problems.”
Dr Lesley Topping says: “There is good evidence regular exercise in the outdoors improves both quality and quantity of life, reduces Alzheimer’s Disease, and helps with mental illness, especially depression. Even exercising in city parks shows an advantage over exercising indoors.”
The two doctors say most New Zealanders are fortunate to have easy access to open space, nature and the outdoors – and should take advantage of it.
“We are so lucky to live in a land where almost everyone can get outdoors easily, whether it’s a local beach or hill, a road trip peppered with day walks, or a more ambitious trip into the real wilds. There is so much variety in our small country!” says Dr Lesley Topping.
“Many people don’t realise what’s there,” Dr Kim Hurst says. “There’s something special about enjoying outdoor space that allows me to really switch off from the usual pressures of the daily grind.”
New Zealand’s current COVID-19 Alert Levels do place some restrictions on the movements of Auckland residents, with the city at Alert Level 3.
You can do low-risk recreation activities in your local area, for example go for a walk or a run, a swim at the beach or a day walk. You can do recreational activities by yourself or with people from your bubble.
People enjoying time in nature should stay within their bubbles and ensure they maintain social distance from others.
Across the rest of New Zealand, COVID-19 Alert Level 2 rules allow for usual outdoor activities, with appropriate social distancing.