The amazing health impacts of nature

Thursday 3 March, 2022

We all know that national parks are good for our precious flora and fauna; but did you know that parks are also good for people?

Visiting your local park or exploring one of Victoria’s diverse landscapes offers everything from short walks to snorkelling and improves your wellbeing at the same time.

Spending time outdoors not only feels good, but research shows it is also great for your physical and mental health. In fact, there is an increasing global movement where health professionals are prescribing people and communities a ‘dose of nature.’

A man walking up to a woman sitting on a picnic rug.


How does nature improve wellbeing?

Time in nature is clinically shown to help improve your physical and mental health. Evidence suggests exercising in a green space, like a park or trail, can have more impact on your health than the same activity within an indoor space.

Nature provides space for walking or running, which can decrease risk factors for various diseases by improving muscle fitness, cognitive functions, and encouraging a maintenance of healthy weight.

For people recovering from injury or illness, spending time in nature can boost the immune system and speed up recovery.

With more people living in cities or large urban spaces, the importance of having parks and green space nearby for people’s mental health is growing. Research suggests people living in built environments are more likely to suffer from stress or mental fatigue.

Exposure to nature reduces stress hormone levels and can improve creativity, concentration, learning, and our ability to solve problems.

For decades, doctors in Japan have recognised the positive impact of spent time in nature can have on physical and mental wellbeing. Shinrin Yoku or ‘Forest Therapy’ is an evidence-based preventative health practice guided by trained practitioners which sees attendees immerse themselves in nature by using all their senses. Participating in guided forest therapy walks has been shown to help regulate blood pressure, lower stress, support mental health and even boost the immune system.

The benefits of nature are so clear that medical and allied health practitioners across the world are embracing the clinical practice of nature-based social prescription. Health professionals are prescribing non-medical resources, like visiting a park, joining a park volunteer group, or participating in a guided walk, to improve the wellbeing of their patients.


How to get involved

You don’t need to be super fit to get the benefits of being in nature with plenty of ways to experience the restorative power of our green spaces.

A group of people being led by a guide along a trail surrounded by bushland.


Join a guided walk

With options to suit any level of fitness and ability, begin walking in nature by following one of Parks Victoria’s many self-guided trails, or by joining a guided Park Walk.

We offer free guided walks across several locations including Werribee Park, Dandenong Ranges National Park and You Yangs Regional Park.

Each Park Walk is led by trained volunteers. You won’t need to worry about researching the best route or how long the walk will take. Just dress for the weather, bring comfortable walking shoes, a bottle of water, and your enthusiasm. Your volunteer guide will lead the walk, so you can focus your attention on the beauty surrounding you and enjoy quality time embracing the rejuvenating power of nature.

Bookings are required, visit the Park Walks page to find your next walk.

Another way to get involved is by attending your local parkrun. parkrun operates free weekly running events at thirteen Parks Victoria locations, and 438 parks across Australia. Running isn’t mandatory – participants can walk, run, jog, volunteer, or spectate on the day.

parkrun events are open to people with all abilities and are a great way to connect with like-minded people. To get involved, visit the parkrun website for information on events and walks near you.

People with hi-vis vests and uniforms weeding in the sand.


Volunteer

Connecting with people in green spaces can improve your community, the environment, and your health. By volunteering in nature, you can meet new people, grow your connection to the local area, and make an important difference caring for vital biodiversity.

Socialising in nature has been found to help improve social and general wellbeing, as well as mitigate the risks of loneliness.

Visit the ParkConnect website to find local volunteering opportunities including regular or one-off planting, conservation, and volunteer ranger opportunities. You can even encourage others to exercise in parks by volunteering as a park walk leader.


Want to learn more?

To learn more about how nature is good medicine, visit the Healthy Parks, Healthy People page for more information.

Talk to your GP or other allied heath professionals about how to incorporate nature-based activities into a healthy, active lifestyle.

Health practitioners can read more on the benefits of social prescribing in nature via our fact sheets with key information and resources.

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