How walking in nature can help wellbeing

A frosty winter walk

Going on a walk can revive us. Whether we explore quiet forests, look out over a rugged headland towards the sea or stroll around our favourite park, spending time in nature can give us a sense of peace.

Walking is special for many different reasons. Experts from our exclusive walking partner Cotswold Outdoor and our rangers share their thoughts on why walking in nature means so much.

Walking keeps our bodies and minds healthy, giving us a breather from the stresses of daily life and the space to gather our thoughts. Exploring open countryside also brings us closer to nature, giving us time to notice how the raindrops cling to a spider's web or listen to the wind in the trees. 

How does walking in nature make you feel?

Each of us will take away something different from the green spaces and coastal landscapes we explore, whether that's spotting an owl flying silently between the trees or sharing the beauty of a sea view with friends and family.

'Walking gives me the chance to see new places or revist the ones that have special memories. It lets me escape my daily life, and share experiences with people I love', says Anna Jones from Cotswold Outdoor. 

While our experience of nature is completely unique we are motivated to explore it for many of the same reasons. 

According to a survey from Natural England we spend time in natural environments for health and exercise (50 per cent), to walk the dog (38 per cent) and to relax and unwind (34 per cent). The findings also show that 88 per cent of people agree that spending time in nature makes them feel calm and relaxed and 86 per cent say they feel refreshed and revitalised.

" 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."
- Anna Jones, Cotswold Outdoor

Healing spaces full of wildlife

Walking allows us to discover peaceful places, where we can take a moment to listen to the birds, feel the breeze on our face or watch the sun filtering through the trees.

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. 

A lasting connection

Overlooked by the lush slopes of Devil's Dyke in West Sussex, Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill is a special place to take some time out. The farm supports people experiencing mental distress with a programme of activities that help them to find some peace of mind through nature and the landscape.  

Graham Wellfare, area ranger, says: 'The hustle and bustle of Brighton is only a few miles away but the farm is such a tranquil place. As soon as people arrive they breathe a sense of relief and they take that sense of peace back with them.'

" People can simply listen to the sound of the birds or notice how the raindrops cling to a spider's web. "
- Louise Buckley, a ranger at Saddlescombe Farm
A misty morning view of the Saddlescombe Farm buildings from Newtimber Hill, with rolling downland beyond to the horizon.

A place to breathe 

Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill, hosts an eight-week nature programme for people experiencing mental distress, including depression, anxiety and the loss of a loved one. The Grow programme immerses people in nature and wildlife through a number of activities. These include nature walks, meditating on Newtimber Hill, cloud watching, working in pairs to identify trees by touch, shepherding and woodworking. The farm is also piloting a follow-up programme called Trust in Nature, which offers longer-term volunteering opportunities.

Leigh Woods, Bristol

Lose yourself in the forest 

Developed in Japan, forest bathing (Shinrin Yoku) is the practice of simply being among trees. It encourages being mindful of the nature around you, and has been recognised for its benefits to the mind and body. From luscious green canopies to mist-cloaked trees, here are some of the best spots for forest bathing.

The healing power of the coast

Walking along rugged coastal headlands and listening to the sea smashing against the rocks is hard to beat. For many of us the reasons we love coastal places runs deeper than simply enjoying the scenery and taking in the fresh air.

Being by the sea can lift our mood, help us sleep and make us feel relaxed, according to a survey of 109 walkers carried out as part of our Great British Walk campaign 2015. 

  • Nearly two-thirds of people 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. 

Crashing waves, Whitehaven, Cumbria

Take time out by the sea 

A refreshing coastal walk is one of the best ways to unwind. From the mysterious castle ruins overlooking the sea at Craster in Northumbria to the craggy slopes of the Jurassic Coast, the coastal places we care for offer some amazing walking trails.

Caring for the places that make a difference

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