“A walk in nature walks the soul back home.”
~ Mary Davis
One of the many perks of being owned by a canine companion who is as fabulous as she is bouncy, is the fact that she takes me out for daily walks in nature. Add to this the fact that we live in an absolutely beautiful part of the world, with woodlands, beaches, mountains and rivers all within easy reach of our home and Dakota and I basically find ourselves in dog and owner heaven on a daily basis.
Being out and about in nature is without a doubt where I feel happiest. I’m generally a very content person, but a good old nature fix always gives me an extra boost – endorphin is clearly my drug of choice. I only need to look at the well documented physical, emotional and cognitive benefits of physical activity to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. (Dakota’s presence obviously helps as well; it’s physically impossible for me to take her for a walk and not feel overcome by a fuzzy gratefulness for her presence, joy and general affinity for bouncing through life).
However, I am aware that the very fact that my walks take place in natural surroundings means that they come with a whole lot of extra perks. There is emerging evidence in the scientific literature that spending time in nature can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety, to name just a few. The combined physical and mental health benefits of walking in nature alone leave me genuinely wondering if nature walks might just be the ultimate preventive medicine.
There is one emerging field of research that I’m particularly excited about and which is revealing yet another potentially-game changing consequence of human interaction with nature. It turns out that people who spend time in nature tend to start caring more their surroundings and environmental protection. This translates into more environmentally friendly behaviours (e.g. recycling in the household). It may seem obvious to those of us who are already disciples of the ways of the wild, but I thrilled about potential for change this could bring.
Walking can be a social activity of course and encouraging interactions between people. I firmly believe that at the root of many of the problems afflicting humanity today is a lack of connection and associated loss of a sense of belonging. And sadly, it’s not just us humans who suffer as a result, but also the other living beings with which we share the world and the planet as a whole. Speaking for myself, when I’m surrounded by wild places, I feel part of something greater. I strongly suspect that I’m not alone in this. For some of us at least, nature connection is an important part of our spiritual well-being as well.
A final reason why I think nature walks have the potential to be a powerful public health intervention is that they are arguably one of the most accessible forms of physical activity for people from all walks of life (see what I did there?). For a start, access to nature is free of charge. Many people live within easy reach of a fleck of greenery, even if it’s the local park. Equally, the basic mobility and fitness required to go for a wander is already present in the majority of the population.
It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why are we not prescribing “nature walks”, given all the evidence for their benefits? What do you think?
For now, I’m going to step away from the computer and – you’ve guessed it – out the door and into the wild with the Baroness of Bounciness.