From oceans and rivers to public parks and walking trails, in the UK there is certainly an abundance of nature. Even if you live in a big city, you’re never too far away from some urban greenery. Not only are the outdoors beautiful but they can also have a positive impact on our mental health.
When our mental health is good, we’re more able to tackle life’s challenges and feel emotionally able enough to look after ourselves, and the people and things, we care about. Within this blog post, we’re exploring the science behind how nature supports our mental health and some fun ways you can explore the outdoors.
The Sunshine Has Many Benefits
Who doesn’t like the sunshine? Even if you’re not a big fan of the heat, simply sitting out in the garden can be a real mood booster. Vitamin D, otherwise known as the “Sunshine Vitamin” is produced when our skin is directly exposed to sunlight and has several important functions for our body including, absorbing calcium, and ensuring we have a healthy immune system.
Vitamin D also plays a big role in regulating mood and fighting depression. In a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, it was found that people who received Vitamin D supplements who had depression noticed an improvement in their symptoms.
However, even on cloudy days, don’t forget the sun cream as UV rays can still penetrate through clouds to your skin.
Mindfulness, Your Brain and Nature
Mindfulness can help to improve our mental wellbeing by being present in the world around us instead of getting consumed by our own thoughts. Practising mindfulness in nature is one of the best ways to get started, as you don’t have the typical distractions you would find in a built-up location.
According to the Director of Geriatric Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance, Dr Jason Strauss, you should spend at least 20-30 minutes of your time outdoors three days a week and ensure that you make it a part of your regular routine to help to ground us and forget about the worries of our bustling lives.
By leaving our urban environments and the buzz of busy populated areas to spend time in nature, it helps us to reset and focus on practising our mindfulness. Some growing research argues that spending 90 minutes walking in nature results in lower activity in our pre-frontal cortex which is a part of the brain that’s most active when we’re ruminating (which means when we’re repeatedly focusing on negative thoughts).
Being in Nature Forces You to Move Your Body
As you’re probably aware, exercise can release chemicals into our bodies that help to improve our mood. Of course, if you’re dealing with any form of mental health issue, it can be hard to just “get up and go for a walk”.
However, on the days where life is a bit more manageable it’s worth pushing yourself to take a short stroll it may take a few times to get used to it, – especially if you suffer from anxiety – but we can assure you it is possible and therapeutic for your mind.
We’re not saying that taking a walk in nature is a complete cure, but it may provide you with the freedom to just be with your own thoughts and give you the ability to process some of the things that are weighing on your mind.
4 Fun Ways You Can Explore the Outdoors
If you’re thinking about getting outdoors but want to try something other than going for a walk, we’ve put together some unique methods you can use to connect with nature.
Outdoor Swimming Boosts Mental Wellbeing
Throughout the UK, there are many locations you can try outdoor swimming but before we list the benefits, there are some important safety tips outlined by Outdoor Swimmer you need to be aware of if you’re thinking about trying this:
- Think before you swim by checking entry, exit points, currents, and tides.
- Don’t drink alcohol and swim,
- Swim with others that know the area,
- Don’t jump in and remember to enter the water slowly to prevent “cold water shock”,
- Let people know what you’re doing and wear brightly coloured clothing,
- If you find yourself struggling, the key thing to remember is: FLOAT to LIVE.
However, once you’ve got the safety aspect down, there are plenty of benefits that you can enjoy. Firstly, you’ll enjoy a rush of endorphins which help us to feel euphoric and peaceful. Secondly, the physical activity involved can help to reduce blood pressure, increase immunity levels, and help to build mental resilience. Additionally, swimming is a low impact activity, which means it’s friendly for those who suffer from joint problems.
Geocaching can Add an Exciting Thrill to Walking
If you don’t find walking exciting, you could also try Geocaching. Geocaching involves looking for hidden items in random outdoor locations all around the world, and all you’ll need to get started is your smartphone with GPS enabled. Plus, the best part is, that you don’t need to live in a large city or town to take part as there a plenty of hidden objects in rural areas.
Explore Nature Further by Mountain Biking
If you’ve got access to a bicycle, mountain biking is the perfect way to explore more of your surroundings rather than just going for a hike. Again, moving your body can help to release those feel-good endorphins and reduce our stress and anxiety levels.
If you don’t have your own bike to hand, there are plenty of national parks which offer bike rentals for less than £20 a day. In fact, the NHS using mountain biking as a form of therapy to build confidence by tackling a new challenge.
Spend a Night Under the Stars
Camping allows us to spend some quality time in a natural outdoor setting. Camping can help to improve focus and cognitive function as you’re without your home comforts and required to plan ahead.
There are plenty of campsites across the UK where pitches are very reasonably priced. Avoiding the tourist hotspots will give you a greater sense of freedom to explore the area and get to know your surroundings. You can also save on the cost of camping by borrowing the gear from a friend of purchasing the display models for camping stores and planning your food and drink in advance.
Mental Health and Nature Go Hand in Hand
Our digital world and increase in screen time have resulted in many of us being nature deprived and missing out on the numerous benefits that the outdoors has to offer us – so, it’s no wonder that so many of us are experiencing a range of mental health problems.
So, during Mental Health Awareness Week, and if you feel able, put on a pair of trainers or walking boots, and spend a little time interacting with your outdoor environment to experience the calming effect that nature can have on our mental health.