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Benefits of being active in nature

This Mental Health Awareness Week, we're celebrating and raising awareness, alongside many other partners, of the powerful benefits of nature and the outdoors for our mental health.

12th May 2021

by Delia Beck and Suzie Gittus
Delia is partnerships lead for active environments. Suzie is senior programme and relationship manager. Sport England.

Over the past year, many of us have turned to nature as a helpful way to support our physical and mental health.

From exploring our local parks, towpaths, or countryside, to enjoying mindfulness moments in local woodlands and forests – getting outside for a breath of fresh air can really help to make us feel good.

A recent study by the University of East Anglia, looking at evidence from more than 140 studies, involving more than 290 million people, concluded nature really does provide a health boost.

A family cycle on a forest trail

It found sunshine naturally increases serotonin – a hormone which effects our mood – and physical activity produces endorphins, another hormone which boosts mood and reduce pain.

In addition, it found that exposure to green space significantly reduces people’s levels of stress.

Our Active Lives data also shows that our activity level is positively linked to our mental wellbeing – meaning the more active we are, the greater feelings of happiness and worthwhileness, compared to those who are less active. 

Recognising the benefits of nature-based intervention and activities, and the important role this will play as the nation recovers from the pandemic, we’ve been working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, Natural England, Public Health England and the National Academy for Social Prescribing as part of a cross-government project aimed at tackling and preventing mental health challenges through green social prescribing. 

Seven test sites will explore the impact of outdoor, nature-based activities such as walking, cycling, community gardening and food growing projects.

We hope to learn more about the impact these activities have on people’s mental health, how to best raise awareness and engage people with these activities, as well as how they can be scaled up, so more people have access across England.

And if you’re looking for an opportunity to get out and explore nature in your local area this Mental Health Awareness Week, here are a couple of ideas for you from our partners:

We’re working with Slow Way CIC as part of our innovation open call, in their creation of a network of 7,000 walking routes. They’re looking for users to get outside and find a local route to test and review it.

Forestry England has teamed up with mental health charity Mind to provide some mindful movements that you can try out when running, walking or practising yoga.

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