The Great Outdoors for Wellbeing
‘Just being surrounded by bountiful nature, rejuvenates and inspires us’ E.O. Wilson
Spending time outdoors has long been known to have incredible benefits for our health and wellbeing. As a child I’m certain you would have been encouraged to spend time playing outside and told that the fresh air will do you the world of good. If you were anything like me you will have relished building camps in the garden, climbing trees and spending hours whatever the weather, enjoying woods, parks, beaches and hills.
As we get older we can get consumed with work and responsibilities and can end up spending much more of our time indoors. In fact the average person sits for 13-15 hours a day, unlike our ancestors 200 years ago who lived in mainly agricultural communities and sat for only 3-5 hours. Furthermore the internet, television and social media have contributed dramatically to our decline in spending time outdoors.
The government advisory committee who are responsible for ‘Engagement with the Natural Environment’, surveyed 20,000 people in England in 2017/18. They asked the participants to report on how long they spent in natural environments in the past week and the impact on their health and wellbeing. The verdict was that by spending just two hours a week in green spaces there was clear evidence of people feeling healthier and happier. A green space, stunning landscape, trees, grass, wildlife and water are a pleasure for all our senses, it enables us to find calm and reduces levels of the ‘stress’ hormone cortisol as well as raising our ‘feel good hormones’, endorphins.
Green Spaces, Happy Places
Green spaces are the life-force of any community by providing room for physical activities and supporting mental health by providing calm, restorative refuge. They enable communities to bring people together. They also provide a habitat for nature and improve environmental quality.
There is increasing evidence of just how important gardens are to our wellbeing. Nurturing something into life is incredibly rewarding. Gardening also helps us to keep fit and can be a wonderfully socially interactive hobby. It’s an opportunity to revel in nature, colour, wildlife and beauty which is great for our mental wellbeing. Even the smallest space can become a sanctuary for wildlife and plants.
Exposure to sunlight increases the release of hormones called serotonin. Serotonin is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. When natural sunlight hits the skin it triggers the body’s production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. It is a crucial ingredient for overall health, it protects against inflammation, lowers high blood pressure, helps muscles and improves brain function.
Natural light helps our bodies better regulate our sleep by producing the right levels of melatonin which induces good quality sleep. By going outside and experiencing natural light you give your eyes a break from computer screens, phones and televisions, this will improve the quality of your vision and prevent damage from artificial light.
Breathing in fresh air has many health benefits, not least improving blood pressure and heart rate. Combined with effective breathing it gives us an energy boost and improves our productivity. Fresh air also benefits your skin as the oxygen in air allows your skin to breathe, is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.
It’s the ‘Great Outdoors’ for a reason
Many of us choose to enjoy the outdoors by conducting a hobby or physical activity such as water sports, cycling, running, walking or climbing for example, providing huge benefits for our physical health and the enjoyment of spending quality uninterrupted time with others. For our mental health taking a digital detox and stepping outside can considerably reduce anxiety, stress, depression and bring peace and calm. By quieting the mind and relaxing in nature you will feel happier, healthier and more confident.
There is so many reasons why being outdoors is great and it’s therefore vital you make time for it, be it that you take a walk during your lunchbreak, you head off to the beach at the weekend or simply sit out on your balcony in an evening, surrounded by a selection of pot plants you have lovingly nurtured.
‘There’s no wifi in the forest but you’ll find a better connection’
Helena Field, Founder, Action Wellbeing