It’s a fact and a simple one at that – nature can boost our mental health. So why are so many of us not taking advantage of this free and natural tonic? And, more to the point, isn’t it about time that we did?
The unpredictable British weather, insufficient time, not living near a park or simply a dislike of being outside are all plausible excuses for not making the most of our great outdoors. But when we weigh up the benefits to our physical and mental health, we’d be foolish to ignore this ready remedy and the research and studies that prove its healing properties.
For starters, research shows that those who spend between two and five hours in nature each week report consistently higher health and wellbeing levels. Indeed, whatever our age, those who spend more time outside have higher levels of self-esteem and report being able to cope better with the stresses of life.
Rhythmic exercise – essentially any activity focused on repetitive movement – such as running, can have a calming effect and help lower blood pressure and reduce levels of our stress hormone, cortisol. The sounds of nature as well as the silence of the outdoors also have the same positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing, calming our bodies’ fight, flight or freeze response.
Meanwhile, walking can help improve the quality of our sleep, subsequently improving our mood as well as our immune system. And, if you need more convincing, also consider that vitamin D, which is absorbed from the sun, is imperative for healthy bones and a strong immune system, and also helps boost our mood. It is for these very reasons that during the winter months, when the sun is in short supply in the UK, we are advised to take a vitamin-D supplement. But even just having attractive scenery to look at can distract us from negative thoughts while studies show that looking at the geometric shapes in nature can reduce stress levels by up to 60 per cent.
If all these facts have now convinced you to put on your walking shoes and get out there, you may be wondering where best to head. Parks or woodland areas are great places to spend some time outdoors. Whether you’re going there for a walk on your own or with a friend, or to sit on a bench by yourself or with company, just 20 minutes can give you a much-needed mood boost.
You could also consider doing an outdoor hobby, such as birdwatching, tennis or running. Or how about taking an indoor sport, such as yoga or martial arts, outside into the open. On a nice weather day, there’s nothing to stop you from reading, writing, painting, sketching, knitting, meditating or listening to music outside, or simply watching your cat, rabbit or dog play in the garden. And if you really fancy communing with nature, you can always visit your local park, farm or zoo to see everything from wild deer to baby lambs and lions.
One way you can start to immerse yourself more into nature is by joining Head Room Café’s Creativity4All sessions on Wednesdays from 2–3pm on Zoom. Following a collaborative writing warm-up, there will be time for you to explore your individual creativity. So, why not grab your pens, paper and any other art supplies you have and take them outside to draw or paint the plants, trees or flowers that you see around you? After all, it worked for Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keefe!