Think back to your earliest memory of being outside. Was it searching for conkers amongst the damp russet and auburn leaves in autumn, running along a windswept beach, listening to the waves crash and feeling the sand underfoot, climbing a hill under sunny summer skies, or dozing off in the grass under the rustling leaves and dappled light. When was the last time you can remember feeling that feeling? In our hectic daily lives it can be difficult to make time to go outside and enjoy being in nature, when there are so many other things to be doing. However, there are so many reasons, backed up by studies, why even a quick half an hour spent in some open green space- be it the local park or the fields nearby, can improve life and wellbeing for everyone.
1. Immune system
Spending time in a natural environment- fields, woodland, the coastline, parks, or mountains can help build a much healthier immune system than urban areas. This means fewer coughs and colds, and more energy, even in the long winter months!
2. Fitness and health
Wide open spaces are the perfect places to walk, run, cycle, and play. This improves cardiovascular function, respiratory health, different terrain strengthens new muscles, and being outside enables Vitamin D to be created from the UV rays (even on cloudy days!) which helps build healthy bones.
3. Mental health
A famous study by Ulrich found that patients in hospital with a view of nature recovered much quicker than those that didn’t- showing that even seeing nature can be good for your health. Being in nature can bring increased happiness, reduced stress, the release of endorphins from exercise and being in the sunlight, and antidepressive effects.
Spending time in nature has been shown to prevent the development of myopia – short sightedness, a condition that has increased in recent years, and has been associated with eye fatigue from long days spent in front of phone and computer screens, and objects close to vision.
5. Social skills
Fields, parks, and woodlands are perfect locations for children to develop social skills- playing with their friends, away from computer screens and technology, learning to take responsibility for their own safety, and build confidence in new environments. These skills mean that when they grow up, being in nature is familiar and comfortable- making it easy to get involved in activities that could otherwise have seemed intimidating. For adults, it’s a great chance to meet new people outside of a work environment, and make new friends.
6. Environmental awareness
We care most about what is close to us- and developing a bond and an appreciation of nature builds a respect that means that we are more likely to care for it. In an increasingly globalised world under more and more pressure for resources and meeting climate change targets, a new generation who genuinely care, and foster a sense of connection with nature can only bode well for its future. This can only come through personal interactions.
7. Fun and play
There is so much potential for a good laugh and some awesome games outdoors! Think enormous games of tag on the field, playing conkers, learning how to gate vault, climbing a tree, seeing who can run the fastest, welly wanging, paddling in streams, swinging on a tyre, or trying a new sport! Laughter and sleep are said to be the best medicine, and after a lot of laughing, and a day outside- you’ll have never slept better.
8. Learn new skills
Outdoor environments offer the chance to learn new skills that you can’t indoors. You can learn to recognise different types of tree or bird, what to pack in a rucksack for a day out,how to use a map and compass, which constellations you can see in the night’s sky, how to put a tent up and use a roll mat and sleeping bag,
9. Personal growth and self esteem
The sense of satisfaction and self esteem, and development of self discipline you get from pushing your comfort zone, trying new challenges- not necessarily climbing the biggest mountain- but something that scares and pushes you to reach new limits, can be so empowering, and renew your sense of self belief. The success of the Duke of Edinburgh Award is testament to this, and develops life lessons to use in all aspects of life. Whatever your goal, the only surefire way to fail is to never begin.
10. Reset – refresh- restart
Switching off the mobile phone, getting away from the town or city, and just getting out and stopping to is sometimes all you need, and can have an incredible restorative power.
11. Memories to last a lifetime
Some of my favourite memories are catching that wave on the body board, laughing round a driftwood fire on the beach, catching giant bubbles in a sunny field, sitting on a stone wall eating fish and chips, or remembering that time I saw my first red kite or built a mini igloo in the snow. To rediscover that sense of awe and wonder, to marvel at the starry skies, to wake up to the early morning mist surrounded by friends, cooking dinner together outside, or to go for a walk around the park and feel alive again- those are the things we live for in between the long hours staring at a computer screen or stressing about deadlines. Memories and shared experience with friends and family are what bond you, and what better place to create them than in the great outdoors, all year round.
If there was a pill that gave you all the benefits of getting outside and enjoying nature and the great outdoors, everyone would be taking it. Nature offers us so much, that you cannot get from sitting inside all day. Getting back to our evolutionary roots and embracing all the beauty that it has to offer will only ever bring you benefits. The UK has 15 national parks, which are a short bus or train ride away from most members of the population. All cities and towns have parks and green spaces, if you have less time. If you’re just getting started, or are a seasoned outdoorsy person looking for some new ideas, the internet is (as ever) an excellent source of inspiration, and knowledge for those who may be a bit unsure. There is no reason why you can’t be safe out walking in the hills if you pack the right equipment, check the weather forecast, and have a good idea of where you’re going. Adventures don’t have to cost the earth either! Check out some of the following links for ideas:
50 things to do before you’re 11 and ¾ https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/50-things-to-do
Microadventures for everyone http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-3/
Wild Nights out and the Youth Adventure Trust http://wildnightout.org