Week three of lockdown and I’ve resorted to reminiscing over beautiful photos of our mountains and even today’s forest background on my laptop’s lock screen. It’s bittersweet. Nature in all its forms, apparently even digital, bring me joy, but reminds me how much I miss her. I mutter a pledge that I’ve already uttered dozens of times: the first trip I make will be to the Lake District. Last night I even dreamt of the Helvellyn Horseshoe: from shore to summit, one of the UK’s highest quality mountain days in my view. Surely many of you are doing the same. We all love the outdoors, but why is that? Is there more to it than just beautiful views and a well-earned pint in the Pen-Y-Gwyrd? With time to pause, lockdown seems like a good opportunity to stand, stare, and reflect. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is physical. According to the NHS, exercising reduces our risk to major illnesses including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and many cancers. If you exercise outdoors, you also get a healthy dose of Vitamin D, which many of us are deficient in and can also prevent disease. Amazingly, nature isn’t just preventative; she restores us. One study showed that patients recovering from spinal surgery felt less pain if they enjoyed natural light, whilst another study showed that by just being able to see trees and nature from their window, post-op patients recovered quicker and reduced medication doses. Nature heals us. During lockdown, many of us are noticing more nature’s impact on our mental health. When I spend pretty much all week indoors, I’m more anxious, stressed and low. Yet just a short stroll through something remotely green transforms me. The mental health charity, Mind, is unequivocal: “spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems”. The list of conditions that can be helped is sizeable: stress, anxiety, depression, confidence, bi-polar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, OCD and more. I can attest to this too: messing about in fields and forests soothes my ongoing battle with stress and depression. Appreciating nature has another, beautifully circular benefit too: it improves the environment that we love. The National Trust and the University of Derby’s “Noticing Nature” report asks why some people take actions to protect the environment and some don’t. Their answer? “‘Noticing nature’ has the greatest influence on conservation action.” From watching wildlife to enjoying a sunrise, regularly appreciating the wonders of nature makes us much more likely to act. Other reports have shown that enjoying nature correlates to recycling, buying locally and responsibly, and travelling more sustainably. Perhaps noticing nature helps us to realise how connected and dependent our lives are on the environment: yet another benefit. Time in nature is good for us and for the planet. How could you reconnect a little more with nature, both now, under lockdown and in those future trips that so many of us are dreaming of?
Go green on your exercise: walk, run or cycle to a meadow, park or green, and pause to enjoy it. The National Trust’s “rewilding your life” even suggests taking 20s to listen to birdsong or touch the grass or bark.
Grow your own: even a window box can grow something tasty to eat or to help out the local wildlife. Not only does it look, taste and smell great, but soil on our hands has been proven to lower anxiety! The RSPB has a great guide on “gardening for wildlife”
When lockdown is lifted, take a minute on your adventures to pause and appreciate nature. It might just help you and her.
If you’re looking for mental health support, check out Black Dog Outdoors: a great platform for re-connecting people with the great outdoors to support their mental health. They run walking, climbing and paddle sessions that are open for us all to join, so do take a look if your mental health could do with a boost.
Adventure sustainably. Nature is recovering a little as we’re confined, but let’s not undo all that good work. I co-founded Via Outdoors for this reason. We’re a social enterprise that transports people from London to and around our national parks. As well as making your adventures easier and cheaper, we make them more sustainable. We use low carbon transport and offset our emissions, while hopefully inspiring you to reconnect with and protect nature. Find out more at viaoutdoors.co.uk