When I was about 19, I remember seeing a psychiatrist who said to me, “You need to get out and look at the trees and you will feel much better”. At the time I wrote him off as totally useless with no idea about how to help me. Turns out that maybe he had a point…
I have a looooong history of mental health problems. I’m not going to go into huge details, but I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety and self harming since puberty, I’ve had 3 psychiatric hospital admissions and more therapy sessions than you could imagine. But whether you have a chronic long term mental health condition, are feeling a little blue with the long cold, dark winter or are somewhere in between, I believe getting out and walking in nature can help.
We all know that exercise is good for us. There’s loads of research into the positive effects of regular exercise on both physical and mental health but there is now increasing research on the benefits of nature. In 2015 a Harvard study showed that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to those who walked in an urban, high traffic area, showed decreased brain activity in a region associated with a key factor in depression.
I started walking when my first child was 2 months old. Before then I’d been the most indoorsy person ever thank you very much! But I’m also a highly competitive person and a friend challenged us to walk 2015 miles in 2015 and so my wife and I began walking laps of the local park with baby J in the buggy. After only a couple of weeks I could feel the positive effects: I was quickly shedding the baby weight and I was physically fitter but my sleep also improved and so did my mood.
A few months later I found a family walking group, got myself a decent sling and began covering longer and more challenging walks through woodland, around lakes and up hills. I was the happiest I had ever been.
Baby J is now 5 and big brother to 1 year old A. We’ve continued to walk, though it’s now A in the sling! We’ve climbed Pen-Y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons, walked through snow to frozen waterfalls in the Shenandoah Mountains and we are going to complete the final section of the 85 mile long Norfolk Coast Path at the weekend. Nature never fails to amaze me with its beauty, and sharing time outdoors with my children, and seeing their love of nature grow is truly special. I really do encourage you to get out and experience it for yourselves.
Nicki Townsend is passionate about getting families outside. She has started family walking groups in both Cardiff and Norfolk and writes the blog Home Is Where The Hike Is. When not walking, she enjoys singing with the Military Wives Choir and is a huge Harry Potter Fan.
To read more about Nicki’s hiking experiences please visit her blog at
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