As Green Weeks gets underway across UHI, Sandra Macrae, an MA health and wellbeing student, has shared a list of 10 ideas to support green health, highlighting the positive impact that nature can have on our health and wellbeing.
The value of outdoor walks in green and natural spaces is recognised as supporting wellbeing in multiple ways that improve physical and mental health. Green walks can be organised for different mobility levels and are less about distance or number of steps and more about the simple benefits of people just walking outdoors together in natural spaces. Green walking is a sustainable, low carbon activity which not only promotes wellbeing by helping reduce stress, anxiety and depression, but also strengthens social connections and benefits the environment by developing our connection with nature.
Bushcraft involves skills and knowledge that can be used for surviving outdoors in the natural environment. Wilderness survival starts with learning how to thrive outside in the elements. Bushcraft training courses teach the basics of navigation, building shelters, campfire safety, foraging for food and collecting water. It’s a green health activity in the truest sense of interpreting remote, wild places and their natural resources in order to use the environment in appropriately responsible, low-impact and non-exploitative ways. ‘Leave no trace’ is a good rule of thumb for respecting wilderness and sustainability is fundamental to bushcraft. Being in close relationship with nature allows us to see clearly what resources we’re using and whether we’re creating waste that can’t be absorbed or causing damage to the environment. Its ecologically responsible approach has made bushcraft a popular outdoor activity and it is recognised for helping people gain a greater understanding of and appreciation for nature, as well as protecting remote, wild places for the benefit of all.
Simply being outdoors in green spaces can improve wellbeing. If, however, we combine time spent in nature with meditative activities, the health benefits multiply because being mindful by bringing our attention to the moment helps us feel more connected to the environment around us. By slowing our mind, being fully present and focusing on what’s around us when we observe the natural world – the sights, sounds and smells – we can discover opportunities for experiencing a more meaningful connection with life. So, in moments of peace and quiet in green spaces, just pause to appreciate your surroundings, consciously increase self-awareness about what you’re feeling in that setting, breathe the outdoor air with purpose and connect more deeply with the essence of nature by recognising your whole self in it.
Make a hedgehog café
What has happened to our hedgehogs and why are they now classed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ in the UK? The simple answer is that there’s less room for hedgehog habitat because of urbanisation and intensive agriculture, and they’re also feeling the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, this combination of challenges in the modern world means that hedgehogs cannot safely roam, nest, feed, breed and hibernate the way they used to so there’s been a 50 per cent decline in their numbers in the last two decades. But there are simple actions that will support the hedgehog population while encouraging us to get active outdoors and be more aware of and connected to local green spaces. Making a hedgehog cafe in a quiet, sheltered outdoor space offers hedgehogs a safe habitat for nesting and provides much-needed sustenance. Even just nurturing a small patch of chemical-free garden and encouraging it to grow wild can have a positive impact on the environmental challenges facing hedgehogs.
Meet new people and learn about healthier living through volunteer work at a community gardening project. It’s a great way to get fresh air, physical exercise and to collaborate with people from different backgrounds while working on garden tasks such as sowing seeds, taking care of plants, watering and weeding, preparing the ground for growing plants, vegetables, and trees, as well as transplanting seedlings. Getting active in outdoor green spaces brings people together to promote social cohesion and combat loneliness, but above all it improves knowledge about horticulture, growing your own food to address cost-of-living challenges, sustainable living, wildlife conservation and how to take positive local action to address global environmental challenges.
Grow your own food
Food growing is a positive green health action that you can do in whatever space you have, from a garden to a community allotment, a window box or even just plant pots on a windowsill. You don’t need much space or equipment to start growing your own healthy and tasty fresh produce. Planting, nurturing and harvesting your own produce connects you with nature and encourages a healthier diet. For growing indoors, you’ll really only need to invest in a few pots, recycled containers or hanging baskets, seeds and some good quality compost. Strawberries, tomatoes, chillies and peppers will also grow well indoors in pots or a window box. Deep rooted vegetables like potatoes and carrots can be planted outdoors in garden space, a grow bag, an old bin or even a recycled supermarket bag for life! Growing your own food reduces the impact of global food processing, packaging and transportation, so you’ll be living more sustainably and helping the environment whilst doing yourself some good with a physically and mentally healthier lifestyle.
What could be a greener health activity than walking barefoot on the earth? It’s simple, easy to do and free. But there’s more to it than just taking your shoes off and feeling the ground underfoot. In the right circumstances, walking or standing barefoot in a natural environment can be a great stress reliever. We are, after all, part of nature, so the potential benefit of grounding ourselves to the earth makes sense. The healing effects of grounding are explored in lots of different YouTube documentaries including ‘Why I Almost Never Wear Shoes – The many benefits of walking barefoot’ by the American environmental activist Rob Greenfield. Some of the recognised health benefits believed to be associated with grounding include improving mood, reducing fatigue and restoring a sense of wholeness and balance in the body. At the very least it can feel good to be more connected to nature by increasing body to earth contact through walking, lying or sitting on grass or sand.
As an inclusive, low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and all different levels of fitness, cycling is one of the easiest and most accessible green health activities. It’s fun, healthy, cheap and can be sociable. Regular cycling improves joint mobility, increases muscle strength and flexibility, enhances cardiovascular health, strengthens bones, improves posture and decreases body fat. Being outdoors means you are also getting more fresh air – especially if you join a community cycle project to connect with like-minded people who enjoy participating in an organised programme of non-competitive group cycle rides in local green spaces or on designated greenway routes around towns and cities. Plus, it’s a great green activity because it’s environmentally healthy for the planet with a low carbon footprint, too.
What is ‘plogging‘ and why has it become such a popular green health activity with more than 20,000 people doing it each day in over 100 different countries? The word ‘plogging’ originates from the Swedish ‘plocka upp’ (pick up) and the English word ‘jogging’. It combines the worldwide passion for running with the pro-environmental activity of picking up the litter that spoils so much of our towns, cities and natural spaces. The idea of this sustainable initiative was the brainchild of Erik Ahlström in 2016 when he started taking rubbish bags with him to clean up the streets around Stockholm where he jogged. Thanks to social media, the idea quickly became a global phenomenon and all around the world people are now combining their love of outdoor exercise with caring for the environment. A sense of sustainable community action, solidarity and commitment to the environment amongst groups of ploggers who get together regularly, take photos of their sessions and share them on social media using the hashtag #plogging, is the main reason for the activity becoming internationally popular – especially with students.
Natural art collages
Making a nature collage is a green health activity for anyone interested in connecting with the environment in creative ways. It can be as simple as using what you find in a garden, local green space, woodland or wilderness area, or a beach, to create a collage of what you’ve collected while out walking. It’s all about looking at your finds, connecting thoughtfully and creatively with them, being observant of any interesting themes such as the seasons or the wildlife that might be associated with the objects and then exploring the different shapes, colours and textures in whatever way you feel inspired as a mindful maker of natural art. When we use what we have in our local environment to help us connect with nature and create art, it’s an opportunity to positively deepen our understanding and respect for the whole planet.
To find out more about UHI Green Week, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/green-week