There’s a whole host of reasons why being outdoors benefits your mental wellbeing. Now, with a whole new year of possibilities ahead of you, here are 5 of the best we know. *
1. Daylight. Yes, even on the dullest days, the big yellow thing in the sky is sending us many health and welfare benefits. Studies suggest that just 15 minutes of daylight every day – or two hours a week - brings a host of benefits, from Vitamin D production in the skin to improving brain function.
If you’re one of those people who suffer with lower-moods during the darker months, walking in the daylight can help alleviate the situation.
Want to give it a go? As the New Forest has more than 140 miles worth of walking paths and tracks, if you come out for a hike here, you’ll be spoilt for choice! Find out more on our website thenewforest.co.uk.
2. The Dark. Strange, but true, that whilst we generally feel better after a boost of light during the day, we sleep better and feel better if we are not being bombarded with light at night. Scientists believe that excess light can interrupt the Circadian rhythm - our internal clock - which helps regulate sleep and waking. One study from south east Asia concluded that outdoor light pollution can be linked to depression, appearing to indicate an up to 29 per cent increase in cases of the condition for people living in areas most affected.
Here in the New Forest we are fortunate to enjoy some of the darkest skies in the south of England, with nearly 90 per cent of our skies falling into the top categories. This allows our visitors to enjoy an additional wellbeing benefit – being able to stand outside and see the stars. Research has even shown that regularly spending time looking at the heavens can reduce depression and lower blood pressure.
Want to give it a go? Book yourself into a wintery weekend or weekday break at one of our cosy inns or B&Bs.
3. A sense of awe. Being outdoors in a natural place – whether it’s gazing upon a view, watching the sea, or even a magical stag, can produce feelings of awe.
How does this help us? According to researchers at the University of California Berkeley, the more awe we feel, the greater our satisfaction with life. Awe enhances our wellbeing and can even alter our perception of time in a good way.
Want to give it a go? Marvel at the New Forest’s tallest trees, along the Ornamental Drive at Rhinefield. Or step into our Ancient Woodland – some of the best examples in Europe can be found in the New Forest. Hike to the top of Piper’s Wait, our highest point, and watch the sun rise or set. Or book yourself onto a Wild New Forest walking tour and gasp at the beauty all around.
4. Blue Mind. This term refers to the sense of calm and peace that being by water brings, and which was identified by Wallace J Nichols in his book of the same title. Among many other benefits, Nichols’ research suggests that being by water helps us to enhance relationships and increases our overall sense of wellbeing.
Want to give it a go? The good news is that you don’t have to get into the water to take advantage, so take a coastal stroll along one of the New Forest's stunning beaches: Lepe Country Park is good for this - explore the Lepe Loop, a 5 mile coast and countryside circular walk around Lepe and Exbury, walk Beaulieu River or book an organised paddle trip with New Forest Activities on Beaulieu River or with The New Forest Paddle Sport Company at Keyhaven. Take a turn around Andrew’s Mare Pond, or along Calshot Spit, making sure to notice all the wildlife and natural activity.
5. Forest Bathing. The Japanese practise of Shinrin-Yoku roughly translates as 'bathing your senses in the atmosphere of the forest'. As far back as the 1980s, studies showed that two hours spent mindfully in a forest delivered a host of benefits for participants; from lower cortisol or stress hormone levels, to improved memory and concentration. Trees also release a series of beneficial chemicals that boost our immune system.
Want to give it a go? Self guide yourself to one of our beautiful woodlands, from Whitefield Moor, to Blackwater.
*Disclaimer: This content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not, amount to advice which you should rely on. It is not in any way an alternative to specific advice. If you think you are experiencing any medical condition you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.