Most of us instinctively sense the benefits that the natural world brings us but how many of us know that there are sound scientific reasons why nature soothes us and supports our wellbeing?
Earlier this year, Forest Holidays joined more than 100 academics and experts at the 3rd Annual Nature Connections conference to find out more about the benefits of nature. We learnt some surprising (and not so surprising) facts….
Nature has real and measurable health benefits
Take a moment, close your eyes and imagine you’re walking through a forest, you can smell the freshness of the air, feel the forest floor beneath your feet and hear the bird-song. Feels good, doesn’t it? Want to know why?
According to Dr. Miles Richardson from Derby University, a specialist in nature connections, spending time taking notice of nature has a host of real and measurable benefits. It can reduce your blood pressure, increase your serotonin levels, boost your immune system and bring balance to your emotions, making you happier and calmer and resulting in significantly improved physical and mental health.
His is by no means a lone voice and the importance of nature connections to public health is now entering mainstream debate.
Immerse yourself in the natural world
It’s not just about exposure to nature though. Dr. Richardson’s research suggests that while simply walking in a wood will of course bring wellbeing benefits, taking notice of nature is key. Using all our senses can enhance the benefits we experience significantly. Breathe in the beauty of the scenery, touch plants, listen to the sounds around you. Activities such as photography, art, den building, and star gazing can all inspire this connection.
At Forest Holidays, we see the value of the natural environment to our guests and visitors every day; as Jane, who stayed at Keldy, describes,
“My favourite memory is completing an eight-mile walk in peaceful tranquility.”
Forests are ‘Nature’s Health Service’
Our partners at the Forestry Commission see the benefits too. The research arm of the Forestry Commission, Forest Research, has been examining the link between the restorative health benefits of nature for over a decade and describes woodlands as ‘Nature’s Health Service’, encouraging health professionals and providers to look to natural environments for their patients.
The Forestry Commission has pioneered many initiatives to promote nature connections, including natural play, the Active Forests Programme and projects that focus on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
At Forest Holidays, we are part owned by the Forestry Commission and our cabin bookings provide much-needed income to support these initiatives and to invest in the management and long-term conservation of the forests.
The good news is, there is a Forestry Commission woodland near you wherever you are, so don’t wait for the doctor’s orders, go and make the connection!
Getting children out to play
Speaker after speaker at the Nature Connections conference described the critical importance of childhood experiences provided by muddy play, bushcraft and outdoor adventures.
At Forest Holidays, we encourage children to engage, explore and immerse themselves in nature. As well as our Forest Ranger Adventures for guests, many of our Forest Rangers work with local schools on projects. Gerry O’Brien, Forest Ranger at Forest of Dean, runs Forest Schools for local children and has seen first-hand the difference this immersion makes.
“Time spent outside enhances a child socially, psychologically, academically and physically and also helps to develop a resilience that will stand to them throughout life. More so, though, it is normal and natural to be outside…time in the great outdoors will nurture a connection to with nature that is an intrinsic part of our being.”
So, what can we do to harness the benefits of nature? Do we need to wait for government policy to tell us, for doctors to issue ‘green prescriptions’ or for schools to make outdoor play mainstream? The answer is no, we can do it for ourselves. And, to get started, here is a simple idea from the conference:
Three good things in nature
In a recent study Dr. Richardson asked a group of 50 people to notice three good things in nature every day for a period of time. His findings revealed that compared to those who simply noted factual things, this group had a significant increase in nature connectedness and associated psychological health.
1.This is something that we can all try, whether in a rural or urban environment:
2.Each day try to notice three good things in nature.
3.You may like to take a photo or write them down, along with how the make you feel
4.Focus on your senses – what do you see, hear, smell, touch and taste?
5.Notice changes in the weather and the seasons and the differences these bring
6.Slow down and take time to enjoy the beauty that is around you
Of course, on a Forest Holiday, you are in the heart of nature and we encourage you to slow down, relax and take it all in. We are now taking this a step further with our Forest Bathing sessions.
Forest Bathing is a natural way to calm your senses in a busy world. Originating in Japan, where it is now an integral part of the health system, it simply means immersing yourself in a forest environment and actively reconnecting with nature by being fully present in the moment. It draws on the therapeutic powers of nature and connects people with the natural environment.
The session combines leisurely walks under forest canopy with guided activities and meditations to help you open your senses, hone your intuition and experience the forest as you never have before. After Forest Bathing with our qualified Forest Therapy guides you will feel a sense of wellbeing and a deeper connection to the world around you.
We have introduced guided Forest Bathing sessions at Thorpe Forest and Blackwood Forest and plan to roll it out into all our locations in the future.
Whatever you choose to do to connect with nature, do it today and keep doing it – it’s good for you!