1. It can keep you mentally healthy and happy
With an increasingly demanding working environment, our day-to-day lives seem to be more stressful than ever before. Of course, everyone has different stress triggers – it may be the school run, the daily commute to work, increased working hours, running your own business, living from pay check to pay check, working a high-profile job, being stuck in a job that makes you miserable, or a chronic illness. These are just a few examples of daily worries that might affect us; in reality, the list is endless. All, however, have a cumulative impact on our mental wellbeing. If we allow it to, these stresses can easily get the better of us and may lead to anxiety and/ or depression.
How do you deal with such issues? Well, stress is a normal part of life but how you learn to deal with these factors is key. Getting out in nature provides the most natural and purest form of escapism from the burden of our worries. Of course, it would be foolish to suggest it is a magic cure that will alleviate all of our problems. We are still going to have face reality when we return from an outdoor adventure. However, there is joy to be found in leaving those worries behind for fifteen-minutes or five days while surrounding yourself with nature.
As we become increasingly digitally attached, getting out and exploring nature reconnects us to the natural world and our home, Earth. Taking a stroll around the countryside helps to relax and calm the mind. It provides an opportunity to completely switch off and leave our woes behind, offering a much needed respite to recharge our brains. If you disconnect yourself from your digital devices, you will really start to notice the beauty of the natural surroundings around you. The trees, grass, hedgerows, mountains, and wildlife offer a thriving community full of life. A sure positive boost to stimulate one’s mood.
In fact, a 2015 report by researchers found that those who spend 90 minutes in nature displayed decreased activity in the brain associated with mental health problems. On the other hand, those who walked through urbanised areas saw no noticeable change. Why not give it a go?
Another benefit to being in nature can be found in the new skills that you may acquire as a result. As you spent more time in nature, hopefully you will want to learn more about it. This offers a chance to learn new skills that you would typically not need in your day-to-day life. Long walks, for example, may encourage you to take up map-reading and learn to utilise a compass. Alternatively, hiking may inspire you to start camping and you could learn how to pitch a tent, start a fire, or forage for food as well as a variety of outdoor survival skills. All of these new skills can help to boost self-confidence and self-esteem as well as help build a sense of purpose and enable you to connect better with others around you. You may even find you could join a club to meet new people, improve your social network, and practice your newfound skills!
Setting and achieving goals also works wonders for your mental health. Whether it be setting yourself a goal of completing a five-mile walk or climbing a mountain, at the end of the day you will be surprised at the sense of accomplishment you feel for completing your goal. Try not to get disheartened if all does not go to plan that day – remember, you can try again another day – there is always another day, another trail, and another mountain to see and conquer. You will feel all the better for it.
Why not set a goal of completing a long-distance walk? Check out our collection of walking guides.
2. It can improve your physical health and wellness
Being outside typically involves some kind of exercise. Whether you are out for a short 15-minute stroll around the local park or taking a hike up a mountain, chances are you will be getting the blood pumping around your body and increasing your heart rate while building up a sweat. Physical activity in nature does not have to be boring. In fact, there are countless, fun, sporting activities that take place outdoors. Walking, backpacking, cycling, kayaking, swimming, climbing and running are all physically demanding and provide a fantastic way of combining exercise with nature.
Exercise is important for us. Regular physical activity will enable you to manage your weight better, reduce the risk of a heart attack, lower your blood pressure, lower your blood cholesterol level, lower the risk of type two diabetes and some forms of cancer, and lower your risk of falls by enabling you to have stronger bones, muscles, and joints – thereby also lowering the risk of developing osteoporosis. Exercise also allows us to recover better after periods of bed rest and/ or hospitalisation. Finally, as mentioned in the previous section, exercise will give you more energy, put you in a better mood, help you to feel more relaxed, and to allow you to get a better night’s sleep.
3. You get to learn about science and nature
Spending more time in nature allows you to naturally learn more about it from a first-hand perspective. Hopefully, intrigued by what you see around you, you will be interested enough to find out what it is – from vegetation to animals. Again, this can tie in to mental health benefits as consistent learning grants you new confidence. Why not go for a walk and teach your partner, children, or friends what you have discovered? Did you know, for example, that sunflowers follow the movement of the sun east to west across the sky in a process known as heliotropism? Or that a group of foxes is called a skulk or leash? Seeing these plants and animals first-hand should inspire you to find out more about them.
4. When you’re stumped for ideas it can increase productivity and creativity
Today, our minds are being bombarded as different technologies compete for our attention daily. This can lead to an overload of information resulting in mental fatigue, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and, in more extreme instances, experiencing burnout.
Even at its most basic level, a brisk walk through the countryside for example, nature helps to clear the head – making us much more receptive to new ideas and, in turn, greatly improving our creativity and problem-solving potential. Immersing ourselves in nature provides a fantastic opportunity to find inspiration from the new area around us. The beauty of vast oceans, a fleeting animal, an oddly shaped tree, or a striking panoramic view from a hill top helps to conjure powerful emotions within us and plays an important part in creating boundless creative ideas.
This benefit is a proven side-effect of nature. According to a 2013 report, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, tests revealed that walking in areas with green space for as little as 25 minutes gives your brain a rest and boosts cognitive functioning.
Nature also helps boosts productivity. For some, pent up stress levels can cause you to want to hide under your duvet wrapped up until the problem has melted away. Unfortunately, rarely does this occur. Instead, going out for a walk and enjoying nature will, as mentioned earlier, help to relieve some of this stress. As a result, the task may not seem so big and daunting – instead, with a clearer head, it can appear more manageable and give you the motivation you need to get started, continue, or to complete the project at hand.
5. Become more sociable and build friendships
Though some people use nature as a chance to be alone with their thoughts, nature also offers a great chance to meet so many new people. There are so many opportunities to bond with others. You could join a local walking, cycling, hiking, or running club and discover new routes and learn new tips – from mending a puncture to finding the most suitable boot for the activity you wish to pursue. Of course, there are plenty of other sports too – find your local kayaking, canoeing, rafting, caving, climbing, horseback riding or surfing group! Not only will these groups enable you to meet likeminded people, you can improve your social skills and even develop your team-building capacity.
Alternatively, if you do not feel like doing a sport but wish to enjoy the outdoors and meet new people, you could volunteer at your local nature reserve and help educate others around you and share your newfound knowledge. It also helps the environment as you can support nature conservation in the process. Charities such as the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) or the Canal & River Trust often also require volunteers to help keep their charity afloat. You can find different volunteering roles online – one particularly good site for roles in the UK can be found here: www.environmentjob.co.uk/volunteering.
6. Develop an awareness of the environment
Getting out and exploring our surroundings undoubtedly helps us to develop an appreciation of our environment and the world we live in. You don’t have to go far either – you may be surprised what you can even find in your back garden! Cities also have more to offer than meets the eye and can grant a chance to explore the outdoors in a different but equally meaningful way, particularly when it comes to learning about the history of an area and the impact humans have on shaping the environment around us.
Getting out in nature also offers the chance to explore new places you may not venture to otherwise. With a new love for hiking or climbing, you may choose to holiday in the Peak District or take a trip further north to Scotland. Nature is all around us and is begging to be explored. Visiting such places can also teach you how to make a difference to improve our environment – seeing plastic bags strewn everywhere will hopefully help you to remember your reusable carrier bag next time you visit the shops.
Research even suggests outdoor play in natural environments is extremely beneficial for children as it helps to develop capacity for ‘creativity, symbolic play, problem solving, and intellectual development’. Outdoor play allows children to develop a greater understanding of the natural environment too as they ‘show a growing concern and appreciation for natural environments, explore relationships between living and non-living things, observe, notice, and respond to changes in the environment, [and] develop an awareness of the impact of human activity on environment and the interdependence of living things’. I find the same effects happen to me as an adult too.