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How exploring wildlife can improve your general wellbeing

Head to Hampshire's coastline and marshes to spot local birdlife. Image: Getty
Head to Hampshire's coastline and marshes to spot local birdlife. Image: Getty

After the excesses of Christmas, spending time in nature is a holistic tonic and a welcome wellness boost.

Despite the colder temperatures and grey skies, being outdoors is a vital mood booster. The shorter days mean that exposure to natural light is limited, but even on overcast days, this can aid the regulation of serotonin levels - the ‘feel good’ chemical in our bodies. A lack of serotonin is thought to play a role in depression, anxiety and other health conditions. Winter daylight also generates endorphins, a hormone that can relieve pain, reduce stress and improve your general sense of wellbeing. Additionally, getting outside is a great way of sourcing Vitamin D which is vital for building strong bones and muscles.

Great British Life: Practice the art of shinrin-yoku in the New Forest. Image: GettyPractice the art of shinrin-yoku in the New Forest. Image: Getty

The sights, smells and sounds of the natural world are known to stimulate all our senses in a positive way. For example, studies have shown that the Japanese-inspired practice of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing has a remarkable range of potential benefits including reduced stress, improved mood, better energy levels, and can even offer a boost to the immune system. The practice is rooted in the idea of relaxation with the aim of being calm and quiet amongst trees. Why not turn off the tech and start your meditative journey this new year with a slow, deliberate walk through one of Hampshire’s many incredible woodlands.

Observing wildlife is another route to winter wellbeing. Birdwatching can be a great way to spend time with family and friends, offering a reason to spend time together without distractions. It’s an intergenerational activity that can be particularly soothing to people living with dementia as even a short trip to a nearby park or nature reserve will provide a change of scenery, and a distraction that can help to occupy the mind.

Great British Life: Keyhaven is a birdwatchers paradise. Image: GettyKeyhaven is a birdwatchers paradise. Image: Getty

Regular excursions outdoors in the winter months are not only good for mindfulness. We all know the benefits it will bring to physical health – without the need for a costly gym membership. Going for a brisk daily walk, a run or cycle ride won’t just improve cardiovascular strength and trim you down, it will also keep you up less often at night as exercise boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin.

Volunteering is a great New Year’s Resolution – and another way of keeping fit, getting fresh air, relieving stress and meeting new people. There’s lots of ways to get involved with Hampshire County Council’s Countryside service. More information is available online at hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryside/get-involved/volunteering.

Learn more about mindfulness and nature by downloading a Looking After You podcast available on Apple, Spotify and Android platforms and lookingafternature.co.uk/looking-after-you/

About the author

Gemma Summerfield is a Countryside Projects Manager with Hampshire County Council’s Countryside Service. The service looks after many of Hampshire’s major country parks and National Nature Reserves, as well as some heritage monuments, local recreational spaces, and large areas of common land. It also manages Hampshire’s 3,000 miles of public rights of way.  



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