Written by Sharran Sangha
When was the last time you hiked a new path, appreciated a particularly colourful plant, spotted a type of rare bird, or even – to take it to the extreme - hugged a tree? In 2020, we spend more time looking at screens than we do at our natural environment. In our increasingly digital and busy lives, how important is it that we spend more time in nature?
As well as the obvious physical benefits of walking in the outdoors, exposure to nature has been strongly associated with a whole host of positive mental health boosters with multiple studies highlighting the importance of exploring green spaces, and this is especially prominent with forests. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture have recognised this and even coined the term shinrin-yoku, which means forest-bathing, to refer to this practice of spending time in a forest atmosphere which they claim makes people healthier and happier. In recent weeks, the Boots and Beards gang have explored both Cashel Forest and Devilla Forest, two beautiful green spaces close to Glasgow. So, what effect would this ‘forest-bathing’ have had on our hikers according to science?
Simply spending time around trees has been found to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, boost immune systems (which is especially important in these times!), increase energy levels and improve sleep quality. The effects are even more dramatic for the younger explorers among us, with studies showing that exposure to nature is a vital part of healthy brain development in children and being strongly linked to better mental health later in life. The same studies also found that these benefits even apply to having photos of trees dotted around your walls or having a framed picture of a tree at your desk. As you read this blogpost and look at the accompanying pictures of the forests, your brain is being told to relax and to breathe a little deeper, pretty cool huh?
However, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups have been identified as being less likely to spend time outdoors doing physical activities, one of the most important things we can do for our health. Simultaneously, BAME groups have been found to be at greater risk of mental health problems, with a multitude of factors such as income uncertainty making such groups particularly vulnerable to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. To add to these problems, there is often a stigma surrounding mental health in such communities which means it is a topic rarely discussed and those who need help seldom seek it out of shame and embarrassment. This is one of the reasons why it is so vital that we encourage all communities to take advantage of the mood boosting effects of outdoor activities. Lucy McRobert, a campaign manager at The Wildlife Trust, emphasised that:
“Nature isn’t a miracle cure for diseases, but by interacting with it, spending time in it, experiencing it and appreciating it we can reap the benefits of feeling happier and healthier as a result.”
We are all living in a stressful and unpredictable world right now, and it’s in times like these that it’s most important that we check in on ourselves and actively set aside some time in our busy schedules to do things that reduce our stress levels and allow us to breathe freely for a little while. Whatever your age, ethnicity, or background, join us for our next rejuvenating hike to get your dose of the best medicine around - mother nature.