A look at forest walking and how it can help improve your physical, mental and emotional health along with ideas for some unique outdoor learning activities
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I love nature and find that getting out in the woods or forests completely resets my mental state and attitude. I love the smell in the woods of earth and vegetation and the sound of deer and pheasants crashing through the undergrowth close by. It doesn't matter how down I am feeling or what problems I am having to deal with, getting out into nature never fails to lift my spirits.
The act of forest walking for health benefits is known as 'forest bathing' or 'Shinrin-Yoku' in Japan. The Japanese have been doing this for decades and in 1982 set up a national health program of forest bathing and now have over 70 designated healing forests across the country.
Benefits of forest walking
There are a host of benefits associated with forest walking such as:
reduced blood pressure
lower stress levels and benefits to the nervous system
greater pain thresholds
boosted energy levels
easing of depression
improved heart health
There are so many other benefits to getting out in nature as well such as your daily dose of vitamin D (if the sun is out), daylight to help set your circadian rhythms (your wake/sleep cycles) as well as improved mental clarity and anxiety relief. Forest walking really is healthcare, healing and medicine rolled in to one!
Once you start to experience the benefits of nature, there is no going back. You become more free, wild and joyous. It's almost as if a part of you realises that this is just what your mind, body and spirit have been missing.
How to do forest walking
Turn off your mobile phone.*
Put your phone in your pocket and don't keep using it to take photos.
Walk quite slowly, going in any direction that you feel called to go in, just wander.
Stop every now and then and look around you, on the ground and up to the tops of the trees.
Notice the ground and what is covering it. Can you see any insect life?
Notice the different shapes of leaves, plants and tree trunks.
Look up, can you see any nests or birds?
Find a comfortable spot where you can relax and sit or, if the ground is dry, lie down.
Keep very still and listen to the sound of nature. You can close your eyes if you feel comfortable.
What can you hear? Try to separate the sounds out such as wind, the leaves and branches rustling, animals or birds sounds. Listen carefully and concentrate on each sound at a time.
* You should still take it with you for security purposes but remember the idea is to switch off mentally not keep responding to each notification!
If you like the sound of getting out into nature more, or would like to do some nature activities with your kids or grandchildren, then I have the perfect book for you!
Outdoor learning activities
I recently read Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes which promises 23 spellbinding ways to make nature more visible.
In his book Simon describes how he thinks that we are forgetting the wild world and the act of seeing, listening and hearing what is going on around us.
It's certainly true that most of us have our minds on other things and a huge mental to-do list on the go, but has this last year or so with lockdowns changed any of our habits about how we interact with nature and it's value to our health and happiness?
Nature activities for kids
There are so many ways to have outdoor fun with kids!
Would you like to see seals, dolphins, porpoises, puffins and basking sharks, and all in the UK? Do you fancy learning about butterflies? Or how about learning a really quick and easy trick to set up a place where you just might find snakes or lizards?
If you want outdoor fun with the kids how about looking for otter poop or maybe hedgehog, deer or rabbit droppings and poking them open with a twig to see what is inside?!
Perhaps bats are more your kind of thing. Did you know you can buy a bat detector that converts ultrasonic sounds into ones within our range of hearing? Imagine that. You can even use the same detector on a different setting to track crickets.
Kids would also love using a bathyscope, or aquascope, where you can lower a tool in to the water and see everything underneath that is normally hidden, and more importantly if you have kids, they can stay dry!
There are so many brilliant tips and tricks in this book and there is something for everyone, young or old, I absolutely loved it and there is absolutely no excuse to say that being out in nature is boring.
And if you intend on heading out to the woods and forests you may want to read my article on the Best Natural Insect Repellent in the UK!
If you are thinking about upping your exercise and buying an e-bike, then make sure you read the article on what to think about before buying an e-bike too!
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