Getting into nature is simple and essential

Monday 19 June, 2023

Getting into nature is simple and essential. But often it ends up way down the to-do list. We’re all busy, there’s work, social commitments, domestic jobs and kids needing to be taken places. And way too much TV to binge. It’s easy to leave time in nature in the too hard basket. But how hard is it really? And what can we do to incorporate just a little time outdoors into each day.

It’s not just that getting into green space or going for a walk in a national park is a nice thing to do, it can be argued that it’s essential for our physical and mental health.

A recent Finnish study looked at the correlation between time spent in nature and positive health outcomes. The results reaffirm what we already know and have suspected, that spending time in nature has real benefits to our mental and physical health. The study also found that frequent visits to green space are associated with less frequent use of antidepressants, blood pressure and asthma medications.

Lots of us struggle to find the time to squeeze in a walk, there’s so much competition for our time. But what if you made it a non-negotiable, made it a weekly priority, would you notice anything different?

Recently I was away from home for a couple of nights for work and stayed near Yarra Bend Park. Being away from my regular routine gave me some extra time in my morning, so rather than hot-footing it to the nearest café for a COFFEE, I headed out for a stroll along the Yarra. In 20 minutes, this is what happened.

I got my steps up. I cleared my head of busy thoughts. I listened to the birds. I came up with an idea for a story. I started the day with peaceful mental images of being outside. I felt calmer.

Gum trees alongside river bend in Yarra Bend Park

Yarra Bend Park. Credit: Parks Victoria

The next week, I was back at home and in the regular morning chaos. Making breakfast, feeding kids, packing lunch boxes and getting myself ready for the day. It seemed almost impossible to get outside for a bit of me time in the great outdoors. But, when I found myself running a little early for work I pulled over at the closest green space and went walking.

I only had 20 minutes, so I set a timer and got going. Sure, everyone else was in active wear and sneakers, but it didn’t matter. I still got to a brisk pace without breaking too much of a sweat and enjoyed the moment. The birds were chattering, the light shimmering on the nearby water was calming and the ‘good mornings’ from the people I passed was genuinely heart warming.

When I made it to my desk that morning, I sat with the smug feeling of having snuck in some ‘nature’ time and the very real concept of being in a good mood.

Another aim of my little experiment was to avoid excuses for not getting outside. So, the following Saturday after a bit of a sleep in and the usual kid’s pancake breakfast I gathered everyone up – against howls of we just want to stay home – strapped on the sneakers and got into the bush. The protesting stopped reasonably quickly and with walking sticks in hand we traversed the Greater Bendigo National Park discussing eucalyptus trees, pointing out kangaroos bounding off in the distance and stopping to look at rocks and insects.

When we were home again with pink cheeks and the sense of having seized the day, the kids settled into a morning of nature inspired crafting and chattering about wildlife and trees and their love of the environment.

Child walking along bush track in Greater Bendigo National Park Box-ironbark forest

Walking in the forest near Bendigo. Credit: Parks Victoria

One morning a week I meet a friend for a walk. We always meet at the same spot, Bendigo’s One Tree Hill which is a short drive from our homes. We start the walk happily chatting about our busy weeks, but as the incline goes up the talking slows down. The halfway point is the 50 or so stairs up the old mining poppet head to the lookout. Reaching the top, the sweeping views from every angle never fail to catch my breath.

The city is surrounded by box ironbark forest, as far as the eye can see. It’s a moment of clarity, to take yourself out of the landscape and look down from up high. Just like looking out of the window of a plane, it puts you in your place, reminds you of the scale of the space we inhabit. Then, we’re back down the hill and off to the nearby café to finish this precious morning ritual in just the right way.

So, what have I learned form these four little moments? Getting out doesn’t have to be a big deal. If you’ve only got a few minutes, that’s enough to get out and reset. Going for a walk in a local park can be unplanned and spontaneous. Don’t overthink it, just get out there. Even a small amount of time outside, observing the sounds and smells can affect your mood almost instantly. Go somewhere close, or far. Whatever is easiest. Leaving your headphones out makes it a better experience. It’s easier to focus on what’s around, engage with others and let your mind wander off in unexpected directions. Go alone, go with someone. It’s always good. Hold on to the feeling, it will be motivating next time you’re looking for an excuse. Binge on nature.

Liz McKenzie works in the Communications team at Parks Victoria.


View from One Tree Hill lookout in Greater Bendigo National Park

The view from One Tree Hill. Credit: Parks Victoria

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