NATURE — A Stroll In The Woods Can Be A Tonic To Our Health

5 March, 2022 | Features

The path in Shielhill Glen is ideal for appreciating the healing aspects of nature. Picture: David Carnduff

AFTER February’s triple whammy of named storms, it came as a welcome surprise that March defied tradition to come in like a lamb instead of a lion, writes David Carnduff.

On the last Sunday of February, I, along with many other Inverclyders, shook off late winter lethargy to take a much needed fresh air tonic which saw me walking the old track between Inverkip and Wemyss Bay.

Immediately noticeable as I stepped out in the sunshine was the increased level of birdsong — a welcome sign that true spring is not far off.

Inverclyde is fortunate to have easy access to large tracts of countryside, be it farmland, woodland, coastal paths or the rolling hills and moors of our uplands. And being out in nature is increasingly valued as an important way to boost our mental and physical wellbeing.

It’s an idea that was embraced in Japan in the eighties when the country was said to be experiencing an epidemic of stress and anxiety.

The Japanese found that immersing oneself in nature could help, and they coined the phrase “forest bathing”. Subsequent studies showed “forest bathing” lowered blood pressure, pulse rate and levels of stress hormones.

So, what does it involve? Proponents say it is not simply a walk in the woods, but actively taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.

Among its advocates is BBC Springwatch presenter Gillian Burke, who said: “Just the sound of birdsong, a bubbling stream or the wind through the leaves can lower a heart rate, ease anxiety and make us take a deep breath. Spending time in nature has multiple mental and physical health benefits.”

The Woodland Trust has gone as far as saying “forest bathing” should be prescribed on the NHS and suggests family doctors should advise patients on where to find appropriate woodlands for this very purpose.

Here in Inverclyde, health chiefs agree that being outside in nature has benefits. A spokesperson for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde told me: “Nature can be found all around us, from local parks and gardens, to lochs, forests and oceans.

“Aspects of modern life, however, mean that people are having less contact with nature. This is often due to increased time spent indoors on screens, and decreased outdoor recreation activities.

“Research shows that having access to green spaces is linked to a reduced risk of mental health problems, improved mood and increased life satisfaction.

“Being outside in nature has other benefits too, like improved concentration, reduced stress, increased physical activity and better overall health.”

The spokesperson added that the health board is committed to providing high quality green spaces across hospital sites, stating: “Green spaces support our physical and mental health, as well as contributing to biodiversity and sustainability goals.”

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