Walking in nature: the positive effects on your mental health

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
12 May 2021
Next review due May 2024

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week this year (10–16 May) is nature and the environment. Here, I share the benefits of walking in nature and how to tune into your senses to enjoy a truly mindful walking experience.

Bupa colleagues also share video clips of their favourite local walks during lockdown.

Over a year of lockdowns and restrictions has encouraged many of us to get out walking and appreciate nature more than ever. Local paths, parks, beaches or woodlands became part of daily life for many of us.

For those able to get out, walking wasn’t just for exercise; it was a time to think and reflect. And in those moments, perhaps you noticed the natural environment around you in a bit more detail?

The mental health benefits of walking in nature

Both walking and being in nature hold many benefits for your mental health. So, combining the two is a fantastic way to support your wellbeing.

The benefits of walking

Walking is a great form of exercise. Evidence shows that regular exercise can help:

The benefits of nature

An overwhelming amount of evidence shows that nature is crucial for your mental health and wellbeing.

Being in or interacting with nature holds many of the same benefits as walking and exercise, such as improving your mood and reducing anxiety. After a long walk, you’ve probably noticed how much better you feel for it.

In fact, seven in ten (70 per cent) UK adults say that being close to nature improves their mood. Also, almost half of UK adults (49 per cent) said being close to nature helps them cope with stress.

Being in nature, or even just observing it, helps you connect to the world around you. It gives an opportunity to empty your mind of daily stresses and tasks, and become present in that moment.

Mindfulness is a wonderful practice, grounding you in the here and now; focussing on what you can see, hear or smell. Walking in nature is the perfect time to dial into your senses and notice how you really feel.

A mindful walk in nature – rousing your senses

Next time you go for a walk, tune into your five senses. This will help you connect with nature and the environment around you and bring you into the moment.

  • What can you hear? Perhaps bird song, the wind rustling the trees overhead, or simply your footsteps on the path.
  • What can you see? Look high, look low. Notice cloud formations or birds swooping. Bend down and take a closer look at flowers or shrubs.
  • What can you smell? Damp, rainy days smell very different to dry, warm days. Take some deep relaxing breathes as you walk. Do any smells evoke nostalgic memories or certain feelings? Take the time to stop and smell flowering plants and encourage those with you to do the same.
  • What can you feel? Connect with nature during your walks through touch. Pick up natural materials, such as pinecones. Run your hands over tree bark or through long grass. If it’s suitable, take your shoes off. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Notice the temperature of the surface, and if it’s rough or smooth.

Make the time to walk in nature

Make time to support your mental health this week, and beyond, by walking in nature. Explore a new route, call a friend to enjoy a walk together or take a stroll around your local park.

If you struggle to get outside regularly or can’t walk far, evidence shows that just viewing nature can have a positive effect on your wellbeing. Sit by an open window, watch a nature programme or engage with natural materials through crafting or cooking. There are so many ways to enjoy the power that nature holds.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Fatmata Kamara
Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

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