Alongside food, relationships and health, nature is one of the most valuable things we’ve got in life. I’m not sure about you but sometimes nature took a backseat in busy pre-lockdown life; there’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind us of what’s really important.
We know exercise and being outdoors is good for us. Many of us are exercising outdoors simply because we’re not allowed to indoors. But what if we all made a conscious choice to surround ourselves in nature first and foremost, with the moving bit happening as a consequence? The real health benefits of exercising in nature come when we connect to it, meaning we do things like notice nature’s beauty and engage all our senses. We gain perspective, feel happier and are more likely to want to help protect nature.
NOW is the time to get lost. Imagine the following. Imagine you are out for your ‘daily exercise’ on a path you’ve walked before. You walk with your head down and step forward. This walk might have felt like a chore, you might have had to force yourself out, it might be raining, it might hurt, it might be the best bit of your day. It might start off as the worst bit but turn out to be the best bit. Your mind is elsewhere – financial worries, health worries, the news, your family, daily struggles – your mind is buzzing with activity and you find it hard to be present. Your skin feels the weather of the day.
A sound interrupts you and moves your head upwards. Off the path, nestled in a bush, there is movement. The sweet song plays again. The bushes bounce together but no animal can be seen. Your body turns in the direction of the song and you step off the path. Your trousers scratch against brambles, holly or heather, you’re not sure. Leaves crunch under your feet. You continue, moving slowly and carefully through the overgrowth, trying not to make a noise. At last you spot it. The feathery body, a perfectly formed beak and bright, beady eyes. It flies up and over the trees and you follow it.
You navigate around the muddy bits and walk over different microhabitats. It’s not easy. Your eyes are trying to absorb the different streams of sunshine through the leaves. You steady yourself on the branches around you. Your ears in tune to the birdsong. Following the music or moving towards a point of interest – you are far from the path now. You feel like you are in the wild. You smile to yourself; it’s been a while since your last nature adventure.
Agglestone Rock, Purbeck.
The National Trust encourages you to get out into nature this winter, and often. We urge you to do so more often; try someplace new or somewhere you haven’t been for some time. Turn your phone off so you can be present and start with your local woods, riverbank, beach, heathland, forest, park or common; we are so lucky in Dorset to have some of the best nature areas in the UK. If you can, go during daylight hours then try a different time of day; perhaps dawn or dusk with a torch. Take time to stop and notice what’s around you. Don’t forget to look up and look down.
One place we encourage you to get truly lost are our fantastic sand dunes at Studland. They are full of mystery and adventure. Heather, green lichen, yellow grass, white sand, dramatic landscapes where heathland, forest and sea meet. For a long time, we believed the best way to manage the Studland dunes was to keep people off, however, they are now over-vegetated and over-stabilised. New research tells us we need people to trample them to create new spaces for rare life, like lizards, to thrive. All you must to do is follow this mantra: leave no trace, be mindful of local wildlife and get lost!
Studland Beach, Purbeck.
Exercising outside is priceless, even at this time of year when many of us just want to stay inside and hibernate. Just five minutes in the outdoor gym every day can lead to an immediate improvement in mood and self-esteem, as well as physical fitness. The National Trust has created a 31-day plan to confidently enjoy exercise outdoors. Download your plan today to get started.
Blog post was written by Alex Brocklesby and Julia Galbenu, project officers for the National Trust in Purbeck