Posted: Wed, 03 Apr 2019 09:52
Did you know that spending time in nature can help you be physically active, reduce your blood pressure, boost your mood, and increase your vitamin D levels? This May everyone is invited to get out in the natural environment to help their physical and mental health and wellbeing as part of Naturally Healthy Month, being led by the Dorset Local Nature Partnership.
Living in Dorset we are blessed with many opportunities to get outside – from a walk, ride or cycle in the countryside; a wander along a river, coast path, or the beach; a visit to a local park or nature reserve; playing and exploring outdoors or spending time gardening at home. Most people have access to some form of natural space either on your own, or with family and friends, and it's largely free.
There is increasing evidence that being in nature supports our mental wellbeing by allowing us to relax and focus on the environment around us and provides spaces to be physically active. One study showed that those exercising outdoors do so for 30mins more than those at a gym. This may be down to the variety of experiences that being outdoors gives, such as the seasons and weather. This may also help you to repeat the activity so that it becomes a habit because it's always a little bit different, even if it's in the same outdoor space. And you don't have to be consciously 'exercising' to get the benefits. Conservation volunteering gets you active and also supports or improves your mental wellbeing. A study showed a 95% improvement for attendees with low wellbeing after attending conservation volunteering activities after a period of 6 weeks.
Natural Choices and Stepping into Nature
Within the county there are many nature-based activities or events which you can attend or join, to support your wellbeing, if you're not sure where to start. The Natural Choices programme brings many of these activities together, to make it easier for you to find out what's on. There are over 60 activities across Dorset including practical conservation volunteering (e.g. hedge laying), gardening, health walks, nature walks, outdoor mindfulness, gardening, Nordic Walking and Park Yoga (running from May to Sept in locations across Dorset). Natural Choices activities are run by organisations including Livability Holton Lee, National Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust, RSPB, EuCAN, Bournemouth Parks, Country Parks (including Durlson, Moors Valley, Avon Health and Upton) and many of the Walking for Health groups across the county. Some activities are more physically demanding than others, but you can try different activities out to see what suits you and then maybe move onto something else as you get fitter. The activities are a great way to meet other people and social connection is great in supporting our wellbeing.
Stepping into Nature is a lottery funded project which is supporting older people and those living with dementia and their carers through nature based activities, based in the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Working closely with Natural Choices, the Stepping into Nature programme includes dementia friendly activities such as sensory woodland or coastal walks, Forest School activities, sing and stroll, wellbeing walks, history walks, poetry walks, Art for Wellbeing and Gardening for Wellbeing. Stepping into Nature can help you bring nature back in your life if you find it difficult to get outdoors and into the countryside.
Picnic in the Park
During May we're working with partners, including LiveWell Dorset, Active Dorset and local councils, to hold Picnic in the Park: Living Well, Loving Nature events. The free events will include live music, stalls showcasing local wellbeing opportunities and free taster sessions of local activities to try out, for example Park Yoga, mindfulness, and Zumba (activities vary at each event). Pop along for part of the day or spend all day soaking up the great atmosphere. Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in an urban park could boost your mental health and wellbeing by making you happier – so join us and take a picnic to make the most of the event. These are currently planned in:
- Radipole Gardens, Weymouth on 4 May
- Durlston Country Park, Swanage on 4 May
- Borough Gardens, Dorchester on 18 May
Get involved in Naturally Healthy Month this May
We'd love to hear about what you get up to this May so following us on Twitter @Nat_Choices and @stepin2nature and use the hashtags #NaturallyHealthyMonth #NaturalChoicesDorset and if you take a selfie of your adventures use #NatureSelfie
If you want to find out about Natural Choices or Stepping into Nature activities near you search the LiveWell Dorset Activity Finder and look for the Natural Choices or Stepping into Nature logos and then contact the providers. You can also be signposted to the activities by the LiveWell Dorset Wellness Coaches if you'd like some support or by health and social care professionals such as GPs or Carers Support Team.
So why not get outside this May at school, at work, or at home, to boost your mood and your physical fitness and be healthy by nature this May (and beyond!).
Photo: Sharon George