This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this is another contribution to the campaign run by Mental Health Foundation. In our recent blog about nature and wellbeing, some of the recommended nature activity included walking trails, treasure hunts and cycle routes. This is because a side effect of enjoying nature may include taking up physical exercise, such as walking, hiking, climbing, cycling, swimming, gardening or running. This is good news, because walking can improve your physical wellbeing.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this is our final contribution to the campaign run by Mental Health Foundation. In our recent blog about nature and wellbeing, some of the recommended nature activity included walking trails, treasure hunts and cycle routes. This is because a side effect of enjoying nature may include taking up physical exercise, such as walking, hiking, climbing, cycling, swimming, gardening or running.
This is good news, because walking can improve your physical wellbeing by:
- increasing cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness
- reducing risk of heart disease and stroke
- improving management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes
- strengthening bones and improved balance
- increasing muscle strength and endurance
- reducing body fat
- improving air quality
It is also suggested that regular physical exercise in green spaces can boost our immune system.
Furthermore, the Department of Health states: “Regular physical activity contributes to the prevention of more than twenty conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, mental ill-health and obesity”
Walking also helps us with our mental health by:
- improving our mood
- lowering stress levels
- reducing depression and anxiety
- helping with dementia and cognitive functioning
- reducing noise pollution, which could help us think or practise mindfulness
- increasing opportunities for socialisation and connecting
Walking has the potential to fulfil many other needs too, including reducing boredom and increasing a sense of freedom and independence; which will also improve our self-esteem.
Plus, think of it this way…walking is excellent value for money! All of these benefits and it’s free! It even helps the NHS, your local community and the planet. By walking or cycling, you’ll be reducing carbon emissions, saving energy and preventing additional healthcare costs to the NHS.
“If every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in health care costs” - NHS
You’ll also be giving your local council and local trusts, like Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s reserves, more reasons to invest in local green spaces, helping your local community get the most out of the natural parts of Hertfordshire.
City planners could invest to ensure that nature is available to all, for example by adding trees and flowers along walkways and city streets. Richardson, Passmore et al also continues to say: “Long-term planning for urban “greenways” connecting parks, public, transit, schools, and basic-necessity shops, with prompts to notice this nature, would improve the lives of all residents. Within this, there is also need to consider how urban noise can block access to sounds of nature, such as birdsong or crickets chirping”.
If you’re looking to take things a step further, you can also swim in lakes, join a ramblers walking group or take part in one of Hertfordshire’s Park runs.
“Australian researchers found that members of land conservation groups experience higher levels of health and well-being than non-members. The positive health benefits derived from participating in conservation activities include improvements to physical health and general mood and, in addition, to enhanced social capital.” - Moore, Townsend and Oldroyd
Why not try and set yourself a new walking routine? It could be a five minute daily walk around the block, a weekly walk along your local park or canal or monthly meet-up with your friends in the woods. For those who like improve their wellbeing by giving back (one of the five ways to wellbeing), joining a local conservation group or planting a tree could be a simple and cost effective way for you to combine both mood boosting activities.
Whatever it is that you do, we would love to hear about it. We give all of our students the opportunity to write poems, submit pictures or tell their story – so if walking in nature has helped you this week, why not encourage others by sharing your story?
Department of Health 2005: ‘Choosing Activity: a physical activity action plan’, Cm 6374, London, Department of Health. cabeurl.com/2o
Moore M, Townsend M and Oldroyd J. 2006. Linking human and ecosystem health: the benefits of community involvement in conservation groups. EcoHealth 3(4) 255-261
Our Natural Health Service – ‘The role of the natural environment in maintaining healthy lives’, Natural England 2009 – www.naturalengland.org.uk/publications
Richardson, M., Passmore, H, A., Lumber, R., Thomas, R., & Hunt, A. (2021). Moments, not minutes: The
nature-wellbeing relationship. International Journal of Wellbeing, 11(1), 8-33. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v11i1.1267