Photo of a door opened to a nature scene
There are lots of healthy ways to bring the outdoors in

Getting your daily green

10 January, 2013

The word ‘nature’ is everywhere these days.

We love natural cosmetics and natural health treatments, organic spas and natural fabrics and foods. But how often do we actually get out in nature and enjoy its benefits?

Humans are hard wired to connect with nature, that hasn’t changed just because so many of us live in cities.  Contact with nature is good for our bodies, our minds and our souls and yet many of us are ‘nature starved’ spending up to 90% of our time indoors.

‘Playtime’ in nature isn’t just important for children. We all need it. A wealth of studies have shown that when we become starved of contact with nature it limits our thinking, our creativity, our emotions, our sense and perceptions, and feeds into a number of ills which we normally dismiss as being ‘just part of life’ in the modern world.

In adults exposure to regular time in nature can make them less anxious, angry, and depressed and result in better overall health and speedier recovery when illness does strike.  It has a profound effect on the brain, improving memory and concentration and decreasing impulsiveness whether it is expressed through impulse buying or physical violence.

Even if you live in a city environment you can get your daily green by trying some of the following:

Love your local park – Even in the city you can find a park or green space to enjoy. But how often do we choose to get some green exercise by doing a mile or two circuit around the park, over the gym or an al fresco lunch or picnic dinner in the grass over a sandwich at your desk or a ready meal in front of the TV? Green spaces are there for everyone to enjoy – so make god use of them. And don’t forget that being outdoors isn’t just a daytime pursuit. Why not join a stargazing group and spend the occasional evening gazing at the stars.

Grow something – No matter how small a space you have you can usually find a place for a pot of herbs. Tending your mini ‘garden’  – whether it’s herbs, superhealthy microgreens or sprouted seeds – can be relaxing and is also a way of providing a bit of fresh food for yourself especially in the dark days of winter. If you are feeling much more ambitious and have the room, try turning a part of your garden over to growing food, or even taking on an allotment (on your own or as part of a group). You will save money, get some exercise and bring the freshest possible food to your table.

Become a plant detective – Get curious about the greenery around you. Take regular walks in your neighbourhood and see how many different plants you can name. Many of us have become so disconnected from nature that we can’t identify even the most everyday plants and trees around us and we’re passing this ignorance on to our children. See if you can name ten plants native to your area and ten unusual plants that are definitely not natives. If not become a plant detective – ask your neighbours, check out a book from your library or search the net to find out what’s growing around you. The internet photo site flikr has a What Plant is That? forum where you can post photos of plants and ask the wider community to help you identify them.

Bring the outdoors indoors – And not with toxic air fresheners! Try growing more houseplants, which are useful for purifying indoor air, but you can also use things like recordings of natural sounds, like birdsong and babbling brooks, as well as keeping images of natural scenes in your home, on your computer or phone. These days you can even buy natural sounds from iTunes so you can take a mini nature break wherever you are. Studies in hospitals show reduced stress levels in patients in hospital wards with pictures of nature on the wall. Cancer patients who were exposed to nature sounds experienced less pain as compared to patients in a normal hospital environment. People having medical procedures while viewing a nature scene reported they were better able to control their pain and that the effect is long lasting and results in sustained feelings of well being. In one project at Liverpoool’s Alder Hey Hospital  researchers found that children who listened to recordings of bird sounds were calmer and more compliant with medical treatments than children who did not hear the sounds. Essential oils are also a good way to bring the scent of nature into your life.

Take a foraging course – Learn to identify wild food. At the very least invest in a pocket book that helps you know what you are looking at. Richard Mabey’s Food for Free is the entry level book that most foragers know and love. If you can’t live without your tech for more than 5 minutes, download a foraging app on your smartphone to help you identify plants as you walk. Once you feel confident, try taking some wild food home and making a meal of it for family and friends.

Become a Guerrilla Gardener – How many times have you walked passed a sad looking, neglected, rubbish strewn flowerbed or bare plot of mud near you and thought ‘someone should tidy that place up?’ Guerrilla gardeners don’t wait for someone else to do it; they do it themselves. Beyond bringing much-needed green to concrete jungles there are personal benefits for mind, body and soul as well.  Most Guerrilla Gardeners report a deep satisfaction from removing the broken glass and cigarette butts, planting some sunflowers or lavender and then tending the plot month after month, seeing it flourish with a new lease of life. Planting, digging, shovelling, pulling weeds or spreading mulch can be as energetic as a gym work out. And as with all forms of exercise, it releases endorphins, the body’s ‘feel good’ hormones. Check out to find out what others are doing in your area.

Join an Abundance groupAbundance groups harvest fruit from local trees and distribute it to those in need. These groups are growing in numbers as part of the Transition Town movement. It’s a great way to meet others in your area, to amaze yourself with how much ‘hidden’ fruit is growing all over the neighbourhood, to get some air and to do some good in the process.

Go wild swimming – Heated pools are for wimps! Try swimming in natural ponds or lidos in your area or be more adventurous and go further afield to take a dive in rivers, lakes and secret coves and maybe find the best places to go skinny dipping. The website Wild Swimming can help you find great natural places to swim in your local area – or anywhere else in the world!

Volunteer at a Green Gym – Not the type with hi tech equipment and a powerful sound system but a gym where your ‘workout’ can include helping to clean up local environments or build play areas for kids. It’s a great way to help your environment as well as improve your fitness and meet new people. At a Green Gym experienced leaders guide you through a range of practical projects, giving you the opportunity to tackle physical jobs in the outdoors – improving your strength and stamina, boosting your practical skills and confidence and benefitting your local green spaces.