May is National Walking Month in the UK, and good walk is certainly a lovely way to spend some time in the great outdoors, whether alone with our thoughts, or accompanied with friends and family. But it is also a valuable and oftentimes overlooked way to easily increase stamina and improve our mood. Many of us will be familiar with the feeling of having ‘blown away the cobwebs’ after a walk along the coast or may even have needed to ‘walk it off’ when trying to shift feelings of anger, sadness or frustration.
Numerous health organisations advocate the importance of working gentle exercise into our daily lives, and mental health charity Mind extols the virtue of physical activity, and its valuable impact on our emotional health. They provide lots of advice on the best ways to help achieve this safely, considering people’s individual needs and abilities, and activities include incorporating walking into everyday routines, and joining walking groups.
The Mental Health Foundation also says that physical activity has the ability to enhance our mental health greatly, with even as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking cited as increasing “mental alertness, energy and positive mood”.
If you struggle with physical activity or have mobility constraints, however, there are still mood boosting benefits to be felt simply by spending time outdoors in a ‘green’ environment. Research shows that we have a fundamental need to connect with nature, and that it is vital for our emotional and psychological well-being. Of course, one reason for this is that being out-and-about helps us to stay active, but there are other reasons why it is so beneficial.
- Experiencing the sensations of nature: feeling the warmth of the sun, hearing the sound of birdsong, the rustle of leaves in trees, or smelling fragrant flowers can all lift our spirits.
- Being exposed to the calming colours of nature: blue sky and sea, and green grass and trees have been shown to have a relaxing effect.
- Interacting with nature: watching wildlife and immersing yourself in a natural environment can help to strengthen feelings of connection and ‘being part of something’.
Many different studies have shown a correlation between access to green spaces like gardens, parks, beaches, and forests, with improved mood and reduced stress levels, and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and Mental Health Foundation have even created a guide, ‘Thriving with Nature’, to help us all make the most of the UK’s natural spaces to help benefit mind and body.
There is even evidence to suggest that simply looking at images of nature and natural environments can have a mood-improving effect. A study on the National Institutes of Health website detailed how subjects (who were blinded about the experiment’s objective) were presented with images of nature, and images of cities. They were instructed to “vividly imagine the scenery in the images spreading out in front of them”, then were asked to indicate their mood after looking at and visualising each. It was found that viewing and visualising images of nature led to increased levels of relaxation and comfort.
If you would like to experience this calming effect for yourself, we have lots of lovely landscape, nature, and wildlife themed artwork on our online gallery to gaze at. Head over to browse our collections of your favourite natural environments and themes, including colourful floral collections; dramatic seascapes, featuring a sunny Cliff Walk and Early Morning Walk by Chris Ross Williamson and glistening ocean view of Cap Ferrat by Justin Tew; woodland scenes, featuring flame coloured oaks, carpets of bluebells, and windswept hawthorn; and sweeping landscapes.