By Maria Clarke, Dorset Local Nature Partnership Manager
Did you know that connecting with nature is hugely beneficial for supporting our mental health? Spending time in nature can help us be physically active, reduce our blood pressure, boost our mood, and increase our vitamin D levels – all of which have positive impacts on our mental wellbeing.
Living in Dorset we are blessed with many opportunities to get outside – from a walk, ride or cycle in the countryside; a wander along a river, coast path, or beach; a visit to a local urban park or a nature reserve; playing and exploring outdoors or spending time in a garden at home or planting a window box. Most people have access to some form of natural space, which we can engage with, either on our own, or with family and friends, and many opportunities are free.
There is increasing evidence that being in nature supports our mental wellbeing by allowing us to relax and focus on the environment around us and provides spaces to be physically active. One study showed that those exercising outdoors do so for 30 minutes more than those at a gym. This may be down to the variety of experiences that being outdoors gives, such as the changing seasons and the weather. These factors may also help us to repeat the activity so that it becomes a habit because it’s always a little bit different, even if it’s in the same outdoor space.
And we don’t have to be consciously ‘exercising’ to get the benefits. Conservation volunteering gets us active and also supports or improves our mental wellbeing. A study showed a 95% improvement for attendees with low wellbeing after attending conservation volunteering activities after a period of six weeks*.
But connection to nature doesn’t have to mean being active. Listening to birdsong or the wind through the trees on a stroll or sitting in a park or garden; or watching bees buzzing and butterflies flittering about focuses our attention and connects us to our surroundings as well as bringing us into the present moment, which is very beneficial to our wellbeing.
Not everyone may be able to easily access natural spaces or feel confident in what to do to help them connect to nature, so a fantastic online resource has been created called Picnic in the Parks. Developed by Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and partners, the website includes wildlife webcams across Dorset, videos of beautiful landscapes and audio journeys. The website also includes opportunities to connect to nature through arts activities and guides on activities to get involved with for those who can access our amazing environments. Get inspired with the Picnic in the Parks website at: www.picnicintheparks.org
While connecting to nature isn’t a fix all in terms of having good mental health, it can really help support our wellbeing. So why not do something that connects you to nature which in one way of another is within reach.
* Essex University and The Wildlife Trusts: https://bit.ly/2vNeZ6i
Find out more about the Light On Within Reach campaign and support available in rural Dorset.