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Published: 8 Jul 2021

Wild and Well: Nature for Health - the best medicine

Stephen Wiseman from Nature 4 Health explains how Nature Walks for Wellbeing help people to define what staying well or being happy means for them.

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Over time we at Nature 4 Health (N4H) have become greatly aware of the value of being outdoors. Our childhood and careers have allowed us to benefit from this connection and a great deal of research over many years has noted a multitude of positive outcomes. It seems incredible that anybody should need to extol the virtues of being in nature but as our society has urbanised, many people have become unfamiliar with the benefits. A useful definition of ‘nature’ being ‘the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth’. When written out fully, it seems incredible that we would place ‘nature’ in a small box alongside a myriad of other things, perhaps it is more realistic to think of ‘nature’ as the store cupboard that holds all the boxes.

‘Nature deficit disorder’, as described by Richard Louv, is a tangible explanation for some of the difficulties that human society experiences alongside the myriad of barriers to happiness and wellbeing that exist and are used to categorise various human circumstances and conditions. Having the ability to find a sense of purpose and build confidence in order to take action to make change is key to what N4H offers. When Richard coined this phrase there were around 60 studies of worth relating to deficit disorder, now there are over 1,000 that point in one direction – ‘Nature is not only nice to have but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive functioning.’ Indeed, as Louv states, ‘The more high tech we become the more nature we need’.

Being outdoors in nature is intrinsically beneficial but being there with others and learning new ways, skills and understandings makes this offering organic and vital. We all have mental and physical health and the benefits of social interaction are vast. Our Nature Walk for Wellbeing  sessions, for instance, help people to define what staying well or being happy means for them and how to work towards that. It is not as simple as saying ‘go outside’ – for many people this needs facilitated and some of the wonders awaiting them revealed as well as the fears allayed.

With any group, there is an emphasis on experiencing and benefiting from nature, not just using the outdoors as a venue.  Art, storytelling, poetry, nature tracking and wildlife watching may form part of the session and mindfulness activities are a regular focus, allowing participants to see the outdoors as a great place to be present within. Some of our output can be as little as an hour and build up to full days and weeks of sessions linked to thoughtful programmes of engagement. In a survey in 2017, Nature Walk participants noted increased activity, sociability, engagement with others, self-confidence and self-esteem as well as an increased awareness of nature. When we connect positively with the rest of the natural world the outcomes can be life changing and for much more than the human race.

Stephen Wiseman
Nature 4 Health