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How does Nature Impact our Health?

‘Go out for a walk – you’ll feel better!’

How many times have you heard these words? Did you believe them? Whilst they may seem an almost flippant remark, the truth in those few words is astounding.

There has recently been a huge awakening in to the benefits of nature and green space. In fact, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, many have reported that getting out and about for walks was an important coping strategy for them.

Research shows that being among nature can reduce feelings of stress or anger, improve your mood, improve your physical health as well as other benefits such as social interaction and being physically active.

But not only is nature great for lifting our mood, it is also good for the brain. Experiments have found that being exposed to natural environments improves working memory and focus. It is thought that that nature replenishes cognitive resources, restoring our ability to concentrate. A study in 2019 by Marc Bernam from the University of Chicago proves this, having found that green spaces near schools promoted cognitive development in children.

Nature also has healing abilities.

It has been well documented that patients who have a view of nature will recover quicker from an operation than those that are facing a wall. Nature can also help us with pain – as we are genetically programmed to be amongst nature, we are distracted from pain and discomfort when we are around it. Furthermore, forest bathing, which originated in Japan has been proven to be good for both physical and mental wellbeing, reducing cortisol, improving feelings of happiness as well as lowering heart rate and blood pressure. It is also said to boost the immune system and accelerate recovery from illness. The Woodland Trust has suggested that forest bathing should be ‘socially prescribed’ by GPs’ surgeries to boost patients’ well being.

The NHS states "The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of being outdoors to people’s mental and physical health, as well as the inequality of access to green space.

The NHS Long term plan commits to significantly expanding the number of social prescribing link workers in primary care, and we are on track to exceed our commitment to 1,000 additional link workers by April 2021. Social prescribing and community-based support enable GPs, other health and care practitioners and local agencies to refer people to a link worker who gives people time and focuses on what matters to the individual. For some people this will be green social prescribing, which links them to nature-based interventions and activities, such as local walking for health schemes, community gardening and food-growing projects."

Just 120 minutes a week can make a significant impact on your mental and physical wellness, so my advice to you? Get out into the garden or your local park. Really be with nature. Maybe you could even hug a few trees!!

*Images from Unsplash

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