The health benefits of nature in winter

Thursday 17 June, 2021

More and more studies worldwide have found that humans’ health and wellbeing benefit from spending time in nature. From reducing inflammation and restoring immunity, to lowering stress levels and boosting energy, there’s no doubt nature heals.

But most of us don’t need research to support the idea that contact with nature simply feels good. A soft breeze, warm sun, swaying trees, clearing rain – nature evokes in us a peace and tranquillity that can’t be found elsewhere.

Even winter – some people’s least favourite season – has its role in nature’s grand plan, and displays a magic like no other, if we’re brave enough to step outside and experience it during these colder months.

If you’re inspired to tend to your health this winter, here are just some ways you can get into nature and reap all of its health benefits.

Move your body in nature

Winter is synonymous with staying indoors and rugging up. Heaters cranked up, fires burning, fuzzy bed socks on, steaming hot tea – these cosy images are enough to keep us from heading outside all of winter.

But balance plays an important role in a healthy lifestyle. Moving your body in the crisp Victorian air is the perfect antidote to this winter stagnation, and can help lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, increase flexibility and boost mood.

Here are some ways to incorporate exercise in nature into your winter routine:

  • Visit one of Victoria’s many dog-friendly walking trails, so both you and your pooch – regardless of fitness levels – can benefit from the great outdoors.
  • Do a yoga or pilates class in fresh air with a beautiful view – an excellent way to double your dose of natural endorphins. Find sessions at a park near you using our Licenced Tour Operator directory (filter by ‘Yoga/Pilates Classes’).
  • Book a free guided walk with Parks Victoria to enjoy walking in urban parks or bushland without having to worry about where the trail is or how long it might take.
  • Mums and dads, don’t let your little ones stop you from venturing out into nature. There are plenty of pram-friendly walking tracks with playgrounds along the way in and around Melbourne, so everyone in the family can get their exercise fix.
  • A range of all abilities walks and accessible visitor sites are available for those with limited mobility. To explore some more challenging walks you can use an all-terrain TrailRider wheelchair with the assistance of Parks Victoria TrailRider volunteers.
  • If you are vision impaired, you can access the walks at Jells Park and Albert Park Lake using the Blind Square Event App to guide you.

Two woman doing yoga in Albert Park

Simply ‘be’ in nature

Never mind those children’s nursery rhymes bidding farewell to the rain, in the words of Harvard scholar and poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

Adopting a mentality of acceptance over resistance can help us feel calmer in our lives, increasing our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Rain, hail or shine, take yourself to a nature reserve just to ‘be’. Perhaps go with an intention of slowing down and wandering through – no planned activity necessary.

  • As you wander through the landscape, let all of your senses be surprised by what you experience – the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and feeling of everything around you.
  • Go for a mindful walk in nature following this written guide or by booking a free guided mindfulness walk with Parks Victoria. Mindfulness walks can help you slow down and focus on the present moment - each step, each breath – feeling calm and relaxed.
  • Join a forest bathing experience – gentle, guided walks that support wellbeing through sensory immersion in forests and other naturally healing environments. (Find sessions at a forest near you using our Licenced Tour Operator directory).

Two females in workout clothes walk through tall trees in Dandenong Ranges National Park

Get productive in nature

Nature provides the perfect backdrop to stimulate the mind as much as it does the body. There are many activities that can get you out into nature that increase motivation, socialisation, inspiration, productivity and creation – all feeding into positive mental health.

Whether you’re volunteering for Parks Victoria, working in nature as part of your paid job, or engaging in personal hobbies, nature offers a bounty of reasons to keep us purposeful. Some ideas to get busy in nature include:

  • Improve habitats for wildlife through park maintenance and management.
  • Get gardening at home or in one of our beautiful Victorian parks where even the novice can learn to propagate plants and collect seeds.
  • Go on a photographic adventure and capture wildlife, including endangered species and habitats.
  • Provide visitor information and guided walks along popular tracks and campgrounds.

View and register for Parks Victoria volunteering opportunities here.

A volunteer guide leads two females on a flying fox tour in Yarra Bend Park

Holiday in nature

There’s no better stress buster than spending an extended time in nature to really unwind from your normal routine. Staying in roofed accommodation set in the natural landscape ensures maximum outdoor time balanced with shelter from the elements.

In addition to campgrounds which can be impacted by wet weather, Parks Victoria offer roofed accommodation in prime locations within our beautiful natural landscapes.

A woman in a wheelchair and a male eat breakfast at a table while a male and female sit on a couch

So, the next time you find yourself curled up under the covers this winter, consider the many ways you can get into nature to do your mind, body and soul a world of good.

Looking for more ways to enjoy nature this winter? Read about our top spots for a coffee and a warming winter stroll or ideas for a winter adventure by the sea.

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