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How walking in nature can help wellbeing

Visitors walking the Ridge Trail at Divis and the Black Mountain, County Antrim.
Two women walking the Ridge Trail at Divis and the Black Mountain, County Antrim. | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Going for a walk is a simple step towards improving overall health. Whether you explore quiet forests, wander along rugged coastal headlands or stroll around your favourite park, there’s increasing evidence that walking in nature is an important approach to improved mental health and general wellbeing. Experts from our partner Cotswold Outdoor and our rangers share their thoughts on why walking in nature means so much.

Getting closer to nature with Cotswold Outdoor

Walking keeps our bodies and minds healthy, giving us a breather from the stresses of daily life and a space to gather our thoughts. Exploring open countryside also brings us closer to nature.

As our walking partner, Cotswold Outdoor is supporting us to look after coast and countryside, which means you will always have special places to escape to.

Evidence of the power of nature

According to The People and Nature Survey, led by Natural England, almost nine in 10 adults in England said that being in nature made them very happy. And four in 10 adults said they were spending more time in nature than before the coronavirus pandemic, with health and wellbeing cited as one of the main reasons for getting outside.

Other key reasons for visiting natural spaces were for fresh air and to connect with wildlife and nature.

The healing power of the coast

According to a survey of 109 walkers carried out as part of our previous Great British Walk campaign, being by the sea can lift our mood, help us sleep and make us feel relaxed.

A blond woman in her 30s or 40s wearing a yellow coat and carrying a rucksack with her back to the camera walking along a grass path on a cliff headland on a cloudy day
Walking Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Nearly two-thirds of interviewees said that a coastal walk allows them a distraction from the stresses of everyday life and over half said a coastal walk makes them feel positive about their lives in general.

Coastal walkers were more likely than inland walkers to get a better and longer sleep following their walk but both groups reported benefits to sleep and mood.

The research also showed that walking by the coast can reconnect us with memories of childhood, family and friends and going on holiday. Being by the sea can also help us reflect and think things through.

Nature as healer

Spending time in nature can actually reduce anxiety and depression, according to the ‘Nature and Mental Health Report’ produced by mental health charity Mind. It also states that being outside in natural light can lift a person's mood, especially during the winter.

Useful tips to help you look after your mental health:

1. Start each day with a new attitude

As hard as it might be, try not to take the feelings of yesterday's events over to today. We can allow ourselves to start the day afresh so we won't weigh our day down with negative thoughts and instead feel more positive about what the new day holds. Try beginning each day with a gentle morning walk to help start the day in a more positive and calm way.

A man and women in their 50s or 60s carrying cameras and walking away in leafy green woodland on a spring day
People walking in woodland Dunwich Heath Suffolk | © National Trust Images/Trevor Ray Hart

2. Get your body moving

Being active can give you a sense of achievement and can boost the chemicals in your brain that help put you in a good mood. Doing regular exercise can improve your fitness, contribute to a better night’s sleep as well as provides the opportunity to meet with other people. Walking is a simple and low-impact starting point that you can build on and challenge yourself with when you feel you can do so.

3. Visit somewhere new and find ways to enjoy to great outdoors

Often when you're feeling down you tend to want to hide from the world. But heading outside into the fresh air can make us feel better. Going somewhere new is sometimes what we need – a change of scenery to stimulate our senses and be the distraction we need to clear our minds.

Take time to stop and soak in the small things you see, hear and smell when you're outdoors. Being in nature can be an enjoyable opportunity to experience something new and exciting.

4. Learn something new

Learning something new can give you something to focus on as well as an opportunity to boost your confidence and self-esteem. The great outdoors is full of new things; whether that be a physical activity or just opening yourself up to asking questions about the world around you, and finding out the answers. All this can help you feel more connected and can distract you from any difficult thoughts and feelings you might be having.

5. Make time to talk to people and ask for help when needed

No matter who you are, we all need help at times. Accepting help can be hard, but it's important to accept it when you need too, as struggling by yourself can make life harder for you and those around you.

Talking to people when you get the chance, will not only improve their day but yours too. Why not ask somebody out on a walk so you can talk, explore and admire nature together. Being kind and positive, having a laugh, sharing a perspective on something or just listening to someone else talk can remind us that we all have something positive to offer each other.

Walking gives me the chance to see new places, or revisit ones which have special memories. It lets me escape my daily life and share experiences with people I love.

A quote by Anna JonesCotswold Outdoor
Walkers climbing rocks against a bright blue sky with the mountains in the distance at Sugarloaf, Monmouthshire

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Discover some of the best places for walks, including ancient woodland, stretches of coast and green parkland.

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Cotswold Outdoor

We’ve partnered with Cotswold Outdoor to help everyone make the most of their time outdoors in the places we care for.

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