How walking in nature can help wellbeing

Group of walkers sit down whilst walking on Mam Tor, Peak District, Derbyshire

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.

For many of us, walking has become even more important for our wellbeing during the pandemic. Experts from our 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. 

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. 

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 a loved one. 

Gardens, parks, woodlands and rivers have been places of comfort and solace for many of us during the cornavirus pandemic.

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.

We've got some 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 starting the day with a gentle morning walk to help start the day in a more positive and calm way.

2. Get your body moving

Being active can give us a sense of achievement and can boost the chemicals in our brain that help put us in a good mood. Doing regular exercise can improve our fitness, contribute to a better nights sleep and 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 we're feeling down we 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 gives us something to focus on and an opportunity to boost confidence and self-esteem. The great outdoors is full of new things, whether that be a physical activity we can do or just opening ourselves up to asking questions about the world around us and finding out the answers. All this can help us feel more connected and can distract us from any difficult thoughts and feelings we might be having.

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

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

Talking to people when we get the chance, will not only improve their day but ours 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."
- 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.

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

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 previous Great British Walk campaign. 

  • 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.