Bit stressed? You might want to step outside!

Did you know that simply being in nature has been scientifically proven to improve your physical and mental health?

Snowdrops crop.jpg

Yet we don’t take advantage of this free resource as much as we could. We often see some really beneficial activities such as gardening and going for walks in nature, to be interests that are only for the retired and elderly. It’s not hip to love horticulture (it’s probably not that hip to use the word hip either…not doing myself any favours here am I?).

Well let me claw this back and tell you about a few organisations that are leading the way to help us get more Green into our lives.

One of the best ways to get a bit more Green is to quite simply do more exercise outside.

Dr William Bird (MBE) runs the organisation Intelligent Health which aims to make outdoor physical activity a way of life to help improve well-being across communities but also to reduce costs to the NHS.  One of Dr Bird’s missions is to encourage his fellow doctors to prescribe outdoor physical activity as much as the drugs that they more readily dish out.

The key way the team at Intelligent Health encourage activity outside is with their pioneering Beat the Street campaign. This campaign uses gamification techniques to encourage children and their parents to collect points by walking, running or cycling around their community and activating touch points in different locations. They are already starting to get strong evidence that Beat the Street is increasing the physical activity of people who previously had no or low levels of activity, and at the same time also saving money for the health service too.

Whilst Beat the Street encourages physical activity, the charity Thrive focus on promoting gardening to help bring positive changes to people living with disabilities and ill health; otherwise known as Horticultural Therapy.

Dr Bird said in an interview with the team at Thrive that he hopes:

“ day Horticulture Therapy will be as commonplace as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy”

This might not be that far away given the success that Thrive are seeing in transforming the lives of both adults and children suffering from a diverse range of mental and physical conditions.

The thing is, as Matilda Van Den Bosch (a leading researcher in nature’s impact on well-being, and consultant to the World Health Organisation) said when talking about illnesses ranging from diabetes to depression:

“These are such difficult conditions to treat. It is much more effective to act earlier to stop them occurring in the first place, and access to green places can do that”

Why wait until you have a problem before you start looking after yourself?

The reason Dr Bird and Matilda Van Den Bosch can make their declarations is because the research in this field now shows that:

  • Stress levels fall within minutes of contact with nature
  • Blood pressure and muscle tension reduce when viewing scenes of nature
  • Taking short walks in natural open space, gardening and looking at images of nature reduce stress and anxiety and increase positive feelings
  • There is increased recovery time from mental ill health from exposure to nature
  • Physical activity taken in natural environments has proven benefits to mental health, depression and self-esteem.
  • People living in green environments are better able to cope with stress and major life events than those with barren surroundings.*

*From  Nature Health and Well Being by David Pape and Jacklyn Johnston

Have a look around your office or home environment right now… how barren is it?

How much access to nature do you have?

How many pictures of the natural world adorn the walls of the buildings you work in?

How much exercise do you do indoors in the gym rather than outdoors in nature’s green gym?

In many of my blogs I talk a lot about managing your energy and your state rather than working longer, harder and faster in order to be more productive, resilient and creative.

This research is now showing how important and easy it is to use the natural world around you to help you to manage your state.

One way to do this comes from the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Greening Grey Britain Campaign. This campaign encourages us to simply add a bit of green to our paved front driveways. This could be anything from putting a few pots round the edges, to planting tough and low growing plants on the drive that cope well with being parked over. By taking part in this campaign not only will you benefit from the activity of gardening, passers-by will benefit as they look at what you’ve planted, and the environment will also be better off as the hard surfaces we use for our driveways have been found to increase risks of flooding; adding plants reduces that risk.

bulbs in pots crop

Planting a few spring bulbs in pots is a quick and simple way to get more Green in your life

Taking part in the RHS’s campaign show’s how easy it is to get a bit more Green into your life; it is something that is completely within our control.

Here are a few more ideas:

Super-simple-easy-peasy light green steps:

  • Make your screen saver or desktop background a picture from nature
  • Have a calendar full of natural images on your desk
  • Go out for a short walk in your lunch hour
  • Get an indoor pot plant for your work desk or at home – did you know you can even rent a plant – see this link
  • Do at least one of your weekly exercise routines outside instead of in

Less-simple-but-would-definitely-be worth-a-try moderately green steps:

  • Encourage your employer to put more pot plants or pictures of nature in the office
  • Get a group of you together at work (supported by someone senior) to work out how to make the office environment greener (both inside and out)
  • Take up gardening (start small, spring bulbs are super easy and fun to plant in pots. Garden centres are selling them all potted up this time of year, so all you have to do is watch them flower and then hold on to the bulbs for next year to re-plant. Or alternatively find a herb you like and see if you can grow it, mint is particularly easy to grow and keep alive).

Even bigger darker-leafy-green steps

  • Contact the Thrive consultancy team to get advice on how to make the best of your green spaces around your offices
  • See if your organisation can be part of the RHS campaign to green your grey areas at work
  • Contact William Bird to find out more about his research and see how your organisation can get involved in his Beat the Street campaign
  • Get your employer to set up a small allotment or garden that is looked after by employees

It seems ludicrous to me to think that a free, natural and readily available resource that can significantly improve our health and well-being is quite literally out there, but we just don’t use it.

It’s about time we did for Horticulture what Jamie Oliver did for school dinners. We need to make it hip to love horticulture!

Not only that, we also need to make outdoor physical activity the prescription of choice for our health service, and access to nature the priority of our employers when designing the places for us to work in.

Good luck getting that little bit of Green into your life….

If you want to know more about some of the things I have mentioned in this blog, click on the relevant links below:

Read the ‘Nature, Health and Well Being’ Report by David Pape and Jacklyn Johnston

Visit the Intelligent Health website to know more about William Bird and what his team do

Visit Thrive’s website to see what they do.

Read the RHS’s report that supports their Greening Grey Britain Campaign

Watch a 10 minute clip of Dr Bird and Matilda Van Den Bosch talk about the health benefits of gardening.

Got a bit more time, why not watch this lecture from Matilda Van Den Bosch on Nature and Public health

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  1. Peter Tranter · · Reply

    Excellent article Steph. Why do you think I live where I do, now that I have a choice to be away from the concrete jungle? Mowing six acres of grass may be a chore but sure as hell beats sweeping concrete driveways accompanied by incessant traffic noise! Beat the street seems a great idea and I may well suggest a similar activity be promoted by PHN, the Primary Health Network, here in S.E. Queensland.

  2. […] Funnily enough, Paul Matthews, (my informal learning guru, I mentioned last week) Tweeted a link this week – about the health benefits of engaging with nature. […]

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