Health and Wellbeing and the Natural Environment

A breath of fresh air – why is it good for us?

COVID19 has made many people re-evaluate what is important to them. Being in lockdown cooped up inside for 23 hours a day certainly made me appreciate how much I needed to be outdoors to lift my spirits and keep me fit.  Many of you feel the same way and connecting with nature has seen a resurgence in popularity as people recognise how it helps them. And it is not just a feeling, the evidence points to multiple physical, mental and social benefits of engaging with nature. Exeter University research shows that only two hours a week is key dose of nature for health and wellbeing. People who spend at least 2 hours in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all during an average week.

What’s on offer?

Outdoor activities and nature can be part of our daily life such as walking or cycling to work, taking exercise for leisure such as running, walking, cycling in the park; interacting with animals such as horse riding and dog walking; and activities such as gardening and food growing.

However, some of us may need or prefer engagement with the outdoors through more organised, often community-focused activities and these can be part of a health promotion or prevention offer. There are activities on offer across the country including Green Gym , Walking for HealthCommunity GardeningNature for Wellbeing, and Conservation.

Others with a more specific, clinically defined need may require a more tailored therapeutic intervention delivered by trained practitioners such as Care Farming and Social and Therapeutic Horticulture.

Nature can also help even if you can’t get out and about just yet and there are many ways to access and benefit from nature virtually including listening to birdsong or watching the sunset from an open window. And COVID19 has stimulated many organisations to reshape and enhance their online offer including virtual tours.

Two films highlight that spending time outdoors can be for everyone; not just super active, adventurous people. Penny uses a wheelchair but finds freedom and wellbeing by using accessible forest trails.  Freddy has a nerve condition which makes movement difficult. Spending time in the forest helps her to relax and come to terms with her condition and ongoing recovery.

Now as we enter another nationwide lockdown, I will certainly be making the most of being able to go outdoors for exercise and recreation despite shorter daylight hours. And for those dark evenings I will be investigating more online virtual opportunities and revisiting David Attenborough’s fascinating film documentaries on the natural world.

Due to COVID restrictions not all activities are able to operate as normal so do check websites for latest information.

Ideas Hub

Published 11th November 2020

Sarah Preston

National Development Lead for the Natural Environment, National Academy for Social Prescribing