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5 ways nature can improve your mental health

5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health This Winter

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns have reminded many of us how important nature and green spaces are, especially for our mental health. But as the winter months close in, many of us are more reluctant to get outside. We look at five easy ways to enjoy the benefits of nature this winter.

 1. Join a running club

Fresh air and increasing your heart rate are both very important for your mental health, and running is a great way of doing both. Whether you've never run before, or you're getting back into it after a break, all you need is some breathable sportswear and a pair of running shoes. It doesn’t matter what speed you go, or even if you walk most of the way! If you need some additional motivation there are lots of great resources out there including Couch to 5k, a motivational training app, and local running clubs for everyone from novice to professional. Victoria Park Harriers is a great local club with their own bar for post-run beverages. If you are up for a challenge, Park Run is a competitive 5k run which takes place in parks throughout the country every weekend - simply sign up via the app and you can race against others and your own time.

2. Walk in a National Park

In the early 1900's private landowners were allowed to assault anyone found on their land. During the industrial revolution many factory workers, particularly in the North of England, campaigned to be able to roam the countryside freely. Luckily for us the hard work of these factory workers paid off, and in the 1940's the National Trust was born.

Initially the National Trust looked after large areas of open countryside including the Lake District and The Peak District National Parks, but after the war many landowners gifted their properties to the Trust to ensure they were looked after properly. These properties are now open to the public and include many of the green spaces in London, like Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park, perfect for a taste of the countryside in the city. Most National Trust sites also have a great café, so you can end your walk with a warm drink and some delicious cake!   

3. Volunteering

Volunteering might not be your first thought for things to do to get outside and in to nature, but it can be very rewarding and a great way to exercise too. 

How about helping clean up your local canals and rivers? The Canal and River Trust organises litter picks where you can help make the waterways a great place for everyone to enjoy.

Many food banks and charities need volunteer cyclists to deliver food in the local area; Women’s Inclusive Team in Tower Hamlets and Made in Hackney are always on the lookout for people to deliver food.

4. Wild swimming

The benefits of wild or cold-water swimming have long been established, but since the national lockdowns it has become extremely popular.  And it's not just a summer sport. Winter swimming is a great way of getting out into the wild even on the coldest of days (and it often feels warmer in the rain!) Even in London you can swim in the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds or West Reservoir, Hackney. Just make sure to never jump straight in (get acclimatised first) and have plenty of warm clothes that are easy to change into, as well as a thermos of hot drink for when you get out.

5. Cycling

Cycling is a great way of exploring your local area, or further afield, and you don't even need your own bike. Pick up a Santander bike from all over the city and use an app for a guided tour of London's best sites.  Cycle networks are becoming increasingly common in London, so you don't even need to share the road with cars. My personal favourite route is from East London to Hyde Park via Buckingham Palace .

For further afield you will most likely need your own bicycle. Fixies and road bikes look cool in London but they're not so practical in the countryside. A Hybrid bike is perfect if you are just starting out. There are plenty of great cycles routes a short Overground ride from East London, including Richmond Park and Epping Forest, from where you can ride into Surrey or explore Essex respectively. If you would rather have some company on your ride try a cycling club, like  East London based Velociposse who support BAME and LGBTQ riders and lead rides into the countryside.