HEALTH, WELLBEING & FUN
We all depend on the environment to meet our basic needs. We rely on clean air to breath and natural resources to provide food, drink, and energy. And our relationship with nature runs deep: spending time outdoors in natural environments positively affects our wellbeing.
However, human intervention with nature has also resulted in pollution, contamination, and biodiversity depletion, which can negatively impact our physical and mental health too. At the same time as reducing these negative impacts, focusing on how we can interact positively with our environments and communities can help people and nature thrive.
FEEL-GOOD HEALTH AND WELLBEING IDEAS
1. SPEND TIME IN OPEN, GREEN SPACES
The urban environments so many of us live in can be noisy and feel busy. Allowing time to enjoy the peace of a rural environment or green space can be calming and relieve stress. It’s also great for physical strength, as vitamin D is absorbed from the sun! Taking time to appreciate our surroundings can also help you develop a sense of connection with the natural world, and the plants and animals we share it with. Try moving regular activities outside, such as having a cup of tea or reading a book.
2. EXERCISE OUTDOORS
We all know exercise is good for us. It reduces the risk of conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes, and increases energy, sleep quality and a positive mindset. Many forms of exercise are best done outdoors, such as walking, running, and cycling, where you also benefit from fresh air, greenery, and wildlife encounters. Use maps (try the OS setting on Bing) to see what’s on your doorstep, or parks, woodlands, and nature reserves that are a walk/cycle/bus/train ride away. Check your local council website for green spaces, and see our ‘Green and healthy travel’ page for help with route finding.
3. GET INTO GARDENING
Your own garden/yard is a great place to learn about plants, birds and mini-beasts, and encourage this through pollinator-friendly plants and animal habitats. If you don’t have a garden, bring nature inside with house plants. Take a look at our ‘Connect with nature’ page. Not only is gardening good physical exercise, it’s a great way to learn new skills and benefit mental health. You can also grow herbs, fruit and vegetables, helping you achieved a more balanced and vitamin rich diet, as well saving you money and generating a sense of achievement!
4. CONNECT WITH WILDLIFE
As we go about our busy lives, it’s easy to forget that we share this planet and our localities with many different creatures. Taking time to notice wildlife can create a deeper appreciation our environment, while improving wellness. Many people find birdwatching or observing other wildlife to be peaceful. Again, see our ‘Connect with nature’ page for wildlife-friendly gardening tips. Even talking to pets, or visiting local community or city farms can be a great way to ground yourself. Animals don’t judge and make surprisingly good listeners!
5. VOLUNTEER OR JOIN COMMUNITY PROJECTS
Working with others locally enables us to connect with the people and places around us, and make a difference. Hence volunteering is proven to benefit your health and wellbeing. That’s why many doctors prescribe it! It enables you to give back to your community, and see benefits to yourself and those around you: a powerful way to lift your mood, and help others to feel well too. See our ‘Connect with people’ page for ideas.
6. MAKE LIFESTYLE CHANGES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD
There are lots of lifestyle changes we can make to live greener lives that are good for health and wellbeing too. Have a look at our ‘Low waste & plastic free’ or ‘Green & healthy travel’ pages. They don’t have to be a big or expensive changes, as Sarah points out in her blog post. If this is something you care about, then do something about it and allow yourself to feel good for the changes you make! Developing a positive mindset about what we can achieve is key to solving the climate crisis and keeping our wellbeing topped-up.
CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS
Our physical and mental health can be constantly challenged by modern day-to-day life, but there are lots of ways to look after yourself, your community and your surroundings.
Pollution contaminates the air we breathe and is associated with various respiratory issues.
Fast and processed food is usually high in saturated fat, sugar and salt, which can contribute to various health problems if eaten in excess, and lack the vitamins and minerals our bodies need.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, some microscopic, that come from a variety of sources including micro-beaded facial scrubs, fibres from clothing and plastic products that fragment over time. These end up in our air, water and food systems, which means they are a risk to human health and wildlife.
LACK OF MOVEMENT
Many of our day-to-day lives require us to sit in front of a screen all day and lots of us don’t move around as much as we should. A lack of exercise can contribute to a variety of health issues.
As more of us move into cities for work and other opportunities, our lives become busier and noisier. A lack of space, nature and quiet environments can have a negative impact on our mental health, even without us being aware of it.
We need awareness of the climate emergency to grow in order to address the problems we face, however with this heightened awareness also brings increased fear of problems caused by the crisis. This can cause anxiety, which can be damaging to our mental health.
Reduce the pollution you create, by driving less, and avoiding open fires or wood burners, petrol-powered machinery and burning waste. If you drive, stay under limits and don’t leave your engine idling. Cut your exposure to pollution by walking and cycling instead of driving, and avoiding main roads where possible. Purify the air around you by keeping houseplants, and/or planting hedges or small trees in your garden.
Make a conscious effort to have a balanced healthy diet, including lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and reducing meat and dairy intake. Growing your own and shopping at local grocers or using a veg box scheme are good habits to introduce, and go for organic where possible, as this means no harmful pesticides will have been used.
Try to buy less plastic and especially avoid single-use plastics, and dispose of/recycle rubbish responsibly. Keep your home clean and dust-free, chose natural over synthetic fibres, wash clothes only when you have a full load and at low temperatures, and ditch the tumble dryer.
LACK OF MOVEMENT
Find an activity, sport or exercise you love, and build it habitually into your lifestyle. Consider something you can do with others to socialise at the same time. Walking and can be a great place to start, and help you get around sustainably. Take advantage of outdoor and green spaces and look for other ways you can enjoy and benefit from your surroundings while getting active.
Make time to enjoy green spaces, either on trips to the countryside, in a local park or your garden or balcony. Find somewhere quiet where you can clear your mind and enjoy the calm surroundings. You could even bring greenery inside with potted plants to re-create these reassuring feelings within your home. Download a mindfulness app such as Headspace, Calm or Aura, and listen to calming music and soundscapes with headphones for relaxing me-time.
Do what you can to lead a sustainable lifestyle and positively create change at a personal or local level. Join a local group or charity and allow yourself to feel good about the impact of your involvement. Connecting with others is a great way to share feelings, ideas and knowledge around topics that interest and concern you. Surround yourself with optimistic people and take regular time away from media if this is fuelling your anxiety. Pay attention to how you are feeling, focus on doing things that make you feel good, and seek help from professional or doctor if you are struggling.
USEFUL WEBSITES AND LINKS
How nature benefits mental health: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/nature-and-mental-health/how-nature-benefits-mental-health/
NHS Guidance on physical exercise: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
Gardening for health and wellbeing: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/health-and-wellbeing
Microplastics – what can you do: https://www.mcsuk.org/clean-seas/microplastics
UK Government Clean Air Strategy 2019:
How to cope with eco anxiety: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/climate/how-cope-eco-anxiety
A calendar of mental health awareness events throughout the year: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/get-involved/get-your-workplace-involved/resources/mental-health-calendar