11/11/2020 Spending time in nature to improve health and wellbeing

A winding path surrounded by trees

Spending so much time indoors has certainly made me appreciate how much I needed to be outdoors to lift my spirits and keep me fit, and many of you may feel the same way. Luckily, connecting with nature has seen a resurgence in popularity, as people are recognising how it helps them. Also, 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, compared to those who don’t have regular access to nature spaces.  

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 Health, Community Gardening, Nature 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 easily and there are many ways to access and benefit from nature virtually including listening to birdsong or watching the sunset from an open window. Increasingly, accessing nature online or via virtual tours has become more common place.  

Two films from Forestry England 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. 

During the winter months, 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. 


Sarah Preston was formally a Senior Advisor at Natural England

Continue the conversation


opens in new window