The breathing space of the South Downs National Park, “forest bathing” and enjoying natural light can do wonders to boost mental health.
That’s the message from Amanda Elmes, from the South Downs National Park Authority, who is offering five reasons why the National Park is the perfect tonic for a healthy state of mind for Mental Health Awareness Week (13 to 19 May).
Amanda, Learning, Outreach and Volunteer Lead, says spending just one hour a week getting out into the National Park and enjoying the amazing landscape can make a positive difference to reducing stress.
“The National Park was designated for the nation for a very good reason – it’s such a special place with breathtaking landscape and wildlife,” said Amanda.
“Whether it’s walking a section of the South Downs Way and soaking up the wide open views, or a family cycle ride in the woods, getting outdoors is proven to reduce stress and generally promote a feeling of happiness.
“Many people think that a visit to the National Park needs to be a day-out or involve vigorous exercise, but it could simply be an hour-long gentle walk at one of our many beauty spots.
“With 117,000 people living in the National Park and more than two million people living within 10km, I would urge people to make the most of this incredible natural remedy.”
Here are Amanda’s five reasons why the South Downs is good for boosting mental health:
1. Going for a walk releases feel-good chemicals
A walk in the countryside builds up cardiovascular fitness and releases the feel-good chemical in the brain, serotonin. If walking with your dog, be sure to keep it on a lead.
2. Forest bathing reduces stress
The National Park is a treasure trove of woodland, such as Alice Holt, Stansted and Friston. Forest bathing simply means immersing yourself in a forest setting. Originating in Japan and now a cornerstone of Japanese healthcare, it is a natural way to calm the senses and promote a feeling of peace in a busy world.
3. Getting closer to nature increases self-esteem
Studies point towards spending time in a greener environment as being good for increasing self-esteem, reducing the stress hormone cortisol and reducing blood pressure.
4. Natural light is essential for healthy brain function
Spending too much time indoors, away from natural light, can have a negative impact on our mental health and studies suggest it can contribute to sleep issues, poor memory and anxiety. Just 20 minutes of exposure to daylight can increase the brain’s levels of serotonin and help control our natural circadian rhythms that dictate sleep-wake cycles.
5. Breathe in the clean fresh air!
Studies indicate that reduced atmospheric pollutants can help support and maintain mental health.
For more ideas on getting out and enjoying the National Park, visit https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy/