outdoors

Three reasons why being in nature and the outdoors is good for our health and wellbeing

Get outside for some fresh air, it’ll work wonders!

Woodlands on the Downs, Clifton, Bristol. May 2018 - Film photo Pentax K1000, Kodak Colour 250

I am sure you, just like me, have at one point or another been told to get outdoors to blow the cobwebs away - but why? The idea for this blog post came about after listening to the Radio 4 Forest 404 podcast on the train last weekend (listen to it! its a super cool eco-thriller with the soundtrack by Bonobo and supporting science snippets! whats not to love!). Whilst listening to a supporting science snippet from Alex Smalley from the regarding the outdoors and wellbeing, I realised I’d camped more weekends in the last month than slept in my own bed. Plus I’m imminently off on holiday for another 8 days of camping! I am fairly certain that despite it’s amazingness my thermarest isn’t as luxuriously comfortable as my double bed. So, there must be another draw to being out in nature.

Reason 1: Our hard-wired love for nature

We humans have something deep within our psyche pushing us towards tree-hugging… “biophilia”; we love (philia) connecting with living (bio) things. The “biophilia hypothesis” first introduced and popularised by Edward O. Wilson in 1984 suggested that this connection with nature is why we enjoy looking at baby animals, have pets, decorate our homes with house plants and spend time outdoors.

Playing on the beach, me and my sister 1997, in Majorca.

Playing on the beach, me and my sister 1997, in Majorca.

Have we lost touch?

However, as we have become more developed, in turn spending more time indoors and behind screens we have also become more disconnected with nature. A National Trust report coins that we as a nation, especially our children, are exhibiting symptoms of the modern phenomenon ‘Nature Deficit Disorder, children watch more than 17 hours of television per week, but only play outside for 2.5 hours on average. The scary part of the report was the fact that Britain’s 11-15 year olds spend about half their waking lives in front of a screen, 7.5 hours a day, equating to 53 hours a week, an increase of 40% in a decade. WOW.

Is it all bad news?

Re-establishing connection with living things has become an important area in the field of conservation. Fuelled by many factors, biophilia seems to be on the rise. In the UK, the houseplant industry (£2.2 billion) is now worth more than the UK music industry (£2 billion). Despite the day to day lack of outdoor play for children, people are visiting nature more too, Natural England found visits at least once a week have increased from 54% in 2010 to 62% in 2018, and in England’s most deprived areas this has gone from 38% to 51%. Natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, such as looking at the view from a mountain top, restoring mental fatigue.

Driven by nationwide and global pressures, on 1st May 2019 the UK government announced a climate emergency. Fingers crossed that the growing (pardon the pun) resurgence of caring for the planet continues! I believe that when I go outside on a walk or camping that due to my innate human biophilia (it sounds like some sort of terrible affliction!!) my body and brain feels better - but it gets even more sciencey than just the feeling of joy.

Woodland path, LHW Weekend 2019.

Woodland path, LHW Weekend 2019.

View from Tryfan, February 2019

View from Tryfan, February 2019

Reason 2: The magic of ‘Green Health’

Being surrounded by green living things is good for you; boosting ‘green health’. In Japan, forest bathing, called “Shinrinyoku” is a short leisurely visit to a forest, regarded as being similar to natural aromatherapy and is common practice among its population. Certain conifer trees release monoterpenes, a molecule that may reduce stress and stimulate digestion and immune function. Trees also release phytoncides, organic compounds with antibacterial properties that could also be health boosting for up to a month after a 30 minute trip to the forest. So forest bathing is good, but you probably can’t replicate the benefits sniffing on a ‘Little Tree' Forest Fresh car air freshener.

Woodlands, The Downs, Clifton, Bristol, May 2018 - Pentax K1000, Kodak Colour 250

Reason 3: The mystery of ‘Blue Health’

It’s not only ‘green health’ that has attracted attention, but ‘blue health’ is becoming more in the spotlight. I have found being around or on the water is really relaxing. Scuba diving feels like a turbo fuelled shot of chillaxation and rowing brings me really close to our ‘Blue Mother Nature’. Down in Devon at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (University of Exeter) the BlueHealth project has found that being near aquatic environments is good for your health - but they’re not sure why. There’s so many possibilities. Some research has shown that moving bodies of water give off negative ions which could reduce depression. There really is no conclusive answer - further research into the importance of blue health is needed.

Saunton Sands, Devon, UK, May 2018 - Pentax K1000 Kodak Colour 250

Saunton Sands, Devon, UK, May 2018 - Pentax K1000 Kodak Colour 250

Coastal path, South Malta, October 2018. Pentax K1000, Kodak Colour 250

Why is it important to understand blue and green health?

The science surrounding why is complex, confusing and has many factors to draw out and understand. Especially in the changing planet we live in. Which makes me wonder, with future sea level rise, will living near the coast remain as relaxing as it is now? I’m not sure, but I imagine if you’re house may be washed away by erosion it might not be so relaxing to live there all the time. Do cloudy days have as much benefit as sunny days? Again, the intertwined effects of sunlight must be important.

Answering these questions (and many more) surrounding green and blue health is important. Lack of accessibility to green and blue space remains a problem. Living in Bristol I can quite easily access one of the many city parks, but without a car escaping to National Parks isn’t easy (or cheap!). Building up knowledge surrounding green and blue health will enable urban designers to implement green and blue space effectively, improving physical and psychological health.

Urban green space provides residents with psychological relaxation, stress alleviation, it can stimulate social cohesion, support physical activity, and reduces exposure to air pollutants, noise and excessive heat. There are profound beneficial effects such as improved mental health, reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and death, and improved pregnancy outcomes. Most recently, researchers in Barcelona found that regenerating a a Blue space, a riverside park along the Besòs river, enabled 6,000 adults use the park each day, plus suggest that visitors increased physical activity could prevent up to seven deaths and save 23 million euros in public health spending each year.

Bluebells, Woodland, Royal Tunbridge Wells, May 2019

My final thought…

I’m happy to say I have more than 14 houseplants in my bedroom, I embrace my biophilia. I probably have an addiction to sniffing tree pheromones and ocean air (I don’t think I am alone in this). But I know it makes me feel good, even ‘the science’ says so. Join me, I reckon it’s fairly contagious - its good for you too!

Get outside for some fresh air, it’ll work wonders!!!

Fungi in Devon, February 2018.

Want to learn more, read these:
1. Anxious, depressed, distracted - what if the cure is just outside?

2. The Nature Fix - Florence Williams

3. 11 Scientific Reasons you should be spending more time outside - with all the papers to support their claims

"PAL-entines" trip: A long weekend walking in Snowdonia

It was approaching Valentines day and as I have never ever actually received a valentines card I decided waiting by the front door letter box would probably be a waste of my time. So it didn’t take much persuasion when two friends, Erin and Meg (who I met in the Pyrenees with Love Her Wild UK) proposed we bumbled off to Snowdonia for a long weekend…. aka our PAL-entines retreat!

Lake Ogwen and Tryfan, February 2019

Lake Ogwen and Tryfan, February 2019

We stayed at The Rocks Hostel in Capel Curig. We went off season so I think it was about £20 / night. It was super luxurious. The rooms, beds, kitchen and lounge areas were great and really comfy! I loved the decor and snuggly blankets you were given for in your little hostel dorm bed pod. It was really nice knowing that we were going back to somewhere so cosy after a day on the hills!

Armed with all our winter gear - ice axes, crampons, helmets, rope, boots we were ready for anything February in Snowdonia can through at us! I carried my kit up to Snowdonia in my Snugpak Kitmonster (70L) which had loads of pockets for all my bits and bobs, plus comfy enough to use as a bag pack when lugging all my gear off and on trains. I used my day pack for walking and will write a blog post on what I pack in that soon!

However, despite our preparedness and hopefulness for snow, we were blasted by summer weather and ended up walking in t-shirts. All the gear, no idea. So sadly winter passed without getting out into the snow. 2019/20 BRING IT ON!

First day, Meg and I walked up the Carneddau range to the top of Pen Yr Ole Wen (978m) and the round the ridge to Carnedd Dafydd (1044m). We parked in a lay-by just off to A5, the route started at Til y Llyn Ogwen, a group of cottages at the very Easterly point of Llyn Ogwen. Initially the route is a bit of a slog up a national trust pathway, ending where we then went past the lake, Ffynnon Loer that I dived in last year. The walk was really pretty. Then you get a good fun with a bit of scramble up onto the ridge. The scramble wasn’t too challenging, I’d call it more walking with a few rocky bits to clamber up, but you do need to be able to route pick. Although if you use a keen eye you can spot where crampons have scratched the rock in the past!

Ffynnon Loer - I dived in that lake for Mission High Water, 2018!

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Scramble up Pen Yr Ole Wen

Late afternoon sunshine on the Carnedd Dafydd view of Tryfan and Snowdonia with Meg missioning off downhill whilst I faff about taking pics! Haha…

Late afternoon sunshine on the Carnedd Dafydd view of Tryfan and Snowdonia with Meg missioning off downhill whilst I faff about taking pics! Haha…

The second day was probably the best day I’ve had outdoors in a long, long time… my first ever scramble up Tryfan. What a fantastic day!!! Problem solving, route picking and shimmying over (in places some rather exposed) rocks was brilliant. At the top are two big rocks called Adam and Eve. Traditionally you should jump from Adam to Eve, however, in light of the strong wind I decided it would be a little safer to avoid. Maybe my nerves got the better of me for that one - but next time! The eeeby jeebys were a little too much!! We were so lucky with the sunshine as you can see.

Having a break half way up Tryfan to enjoy the view

Final scramble on Tryfan up to the summit point

Final scramble on Tryfan up to the summit point

Striking a pose on a nice slab en route up Tryfan

Striking a pose on a nice slab en route up Tryfan

Lunch and coffee time at the top by the infamous Adam and Eve rocks!

The view from the top of Tryfan over to Y Garn and Elidr Fawr

Stunning views to the East from Adam and Eve as well! I couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather! Tryfan, Feb 2019

Stunning views to the East from Adam and Eve as well! I couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather! Tryfan, Feb 2019

BONKERS!

BONKERS!

We finished the trip off on our third and final day with some wandering around Ogwen and a dip in the sea!!! It was freezing but utterly hilarious!!! I feel so alive when I wild swim, probably because I am so cold. It was bleak, grey and I got a lot of weird looks stripping down to my swimming cossie on the beach! I can imagine its glorious in summer. Perhaps not on the day we went in - the weather had turned from blue skies to grey drizzle… Never mind!

The day out on Tryfan made me want to carry on scrambling and exploring new places. I cant wait to go on another adventure with the girls soon! I also want to head back to Snowdonia and go for a mission up Crib Goch - although I might wait a bit till the crowds die down over the summer months. Bring it on!!!!!!

All up at the top of Tryfan in front of Adam and Eve - mid-shelter from the wind!

New Year, New Challenges!

Hello!

I hope you're having a lovely time over winter festivities - the end of the year has arrived so I thought I would jump on the blogpost band wagon. So here goes... a smorgasbord of my New Years resolutions, goals and past highlights. 

Top of Ben Nevis, 2017

Top of Ben Nevis, 2017

2017 Highlights

WDHOF Scholar! 

WDHOF Scholar! 

  • March: New York - Beneath the Sea and WDHOF meet up following being awarded a WDHOF Diver Medic training grant. What an inspirational week across the pond! I met so many amazing people. If you get the chance to visit - go for it!! 
     
  • June: Scotland - Ben Nevis via CMD arete. Probably the best day out I have ever ever had! The views were just stunning, plus I was with the greatest adventure partner of all time, my sister Beth.  
     
  • July/August: Patagonia, Chile - Despite rain that never stopped and some moments of pure, dark, cold misery I had a great time. I think some of us enjoy the whole personal grim hardship of the outdoors, my friends say I am mad. I was really lucky to make some vvvvvvv good friends here, digging trenches to divert flood water from tents to making naan breads and snapping many sporks (sorry). I'd do it all again. 
     
  • September: Himalayas, India - Corr! This short and sweet trip = as amazing as it was difficult. The mountains are infectious and I can't wait to go back! 
     
  • November: Awarded £12000 Leverhulme Bursary for PhD! Yippee!! 
     
  • December: Bristol - Somehow I can now run for 30 minutes without stopping. Having spent the last two years swimming for fitness, after finally getting my 1km time down to below 15 mins I decided it was time to try something else. I popped my trainers on and started pounding the trails. The joy upon finally hitting 30 minutes was GLORIOUS. My bendy knees have been fine, but to avoid future injury... I probably need a new strap-em-down-zero-jiggle sports bra. 
Camp Steffen, Patagonia Chile

Camp Steffen, Patagonia Chile

Resolution

I can't quite believe where I am standing now. The new year, 2018, marks five years from when I was ill. I have always been fairly 'relentless', focused on work and my goals. Over the last year I have achieved things I once didn't think possible, but in the process have lost touch with many of the people who helped me get here. Finding balance between work, personal goals, friends and family is what I need to improve upon. This year I want to give my friends a great big bucket load of TLC, rather than just a virtual hug over text or the phone. You helped me get here, so now let's enjoy it! So my New Years resolution is to do just that - see my friends and family more. Surprise everyone!! You thought you'd escaped me... 

Ben Nevis CMD arete route 

Ben Nevis CMD arete route 

2018 Goals

Writing these out always makes me a feel a little sick. "Stop talking, just do it" and all that jazz. So here goes... 

PhD Science-ing.... in the GroDome

PhD Science-ing.... in the GroDome

1. Climb more mountains - I am kicking off the year with a trip to the Pyrenees with the Love Her Wild and 360 Expeditions lot. Who knows there may be a big summit trip later on in the year.... 

2. Mission High Water - Rach and I will be doing this bonkers scuba-mountain 24 hour challenge in May. I will get it done 'come hell or high water' and raise a load'a cash monies for Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance. 

3. Run 10km - I'm going to see if I can do something that five years ago would have made me laugh and spark up another cig at the mere thought of running. Run a whole ten thousand metres non-stop... apparently some people even enjoy these runs. We'll see about that... 

4. Long Distance Trail - Somewhere, somehow I will get one done. Time to get the diary out and get planning. 

5. PhD - I AM STILL DOING SCIENCE. Now rolling into year two the available time for faffing about has dwindled. Heads down writing and lab work ahead. 

6. Drawing - I haven't had the time to draw much this last year - I have dug out my pencils ready for the new year! If I can complete one a month that would be perfecto. This is probably the hardest of all!! 

There you have it - 2018 will have a bit more friend lovin' combined with my usual relentless personal goals and some enforced monthly chill time. Looks like a good recipe. I can't wait to turn the calendar over and begin. If it is anything like the year just passed, I will be extremely fortunate. I wish you all best wishes, good health and a very, very Happy New Year.

Lots of Love, Sarah x

High Willhays, Dartmoor Dec 2017 

High Willhays, Dartmoor Dec 2017 

The family (minus Anna), Dartmoor, High Willhays Dec 2017

The family (minus Anna), Dartmoor, High Willhays Dec 2017

My three year mission to the top of Ben Nevis...

My Ben Nevis story started a long time ago. In 2013/14, my mental health had declined enough for me to voluntarily agree I should be admitted into hospital.

“You don’t fall up, you just fall down”

A significant factor in my mental health recovery has been falling in love with nature and the outdoors once again. Initially forced by family and friends to get outside, I now would much rather be exploring the countryside! Having grown up going on walking holidays as a family, my sister Beth and I decided to go on holiday to the Lake District last year. I’d gone back to work properly only 6 months before so this was my first holiday in a while. I was unfit with sore joints and minimal self-confidence. I didn’t really believe much was possible, but Beth assured me that I wouldn’t know unless I tried.

Me, April 2016. 

Me, April 2016. 

We successfully got to the top of the Old Man of Coniston (803m). The views were spectacular! We decided on the way down that we would do some more mountains one day. I also internally decided that if I was going to do more mountains, I should get a lot fitter. I didn’t quite fancy huffing and puffing all the way up again.

Fast forward to May 2017. Beth and I are driving up to the West Highlands, I am the happiest I have ever been and am 6 stone lighter. We decided that should we be lucky enough with the weather we would try to climb Ben Nevis.

Affectionately known as ‘The Ben’, it stands at 1345m above sea level in the Grampian Mountains, West Highlands, Scotland. It’s fame for being the highest mountain in the U.K attracts 125,000 people to the summit and a further 100,000 people partial ascents each year. With the vast majority heading up on the mountain track that works out at 4327 people / week, 618 people / day. Beth and I decided that we wouldn’t trundle up the Ben with the masses and would instead go via Càrn Mòr Dearg (CMD) (1221m) over the CMD Arête and then up to the Ben.

Off we go up Carn Mor Dearg with the beautiful sights of the Ben cliff face!

Off we go up Carn Mor Dearg with the beautiful sights of the Ben cliff face!

On the Thursday of our holiday up in Scotland, we were blessed with clear skies and sunshine. We followed the route on walkhighlands.co.uk. The blurb describes it as “a truly spectacular route incorporating two Munros. It will live long in the memory and does true justice to the mountain.” We started with what felt like a never ending slog up the CMD slope and then had a glorious walk and scramble round the ridge and across the arête. The route really allows you to take in the enormity of the northern cliff faces of the Ben. The views the entire day were absolutely spectacular – we could even see to the Isle of Skye!

Beth looking over to the arete and up the Ben! Stunning!

Beth looking over to the arete and up the Ben! Stunning!

At the top of Ben Nevis, 1345m.

At the top of Ben Nevis, 1345m.

Beth and I at the summit

Beth and I at the summit

This route would have been unimaginable to complete a year ago. The route is over 20km and after getting to the top of the Ben it is a long way back. Despite this, it was one of the greatest days walking I have had in my entire life. I was elated at the summit of Ben Nevis – but I was emotional upon arriving back to the car. This mountain had been at the back of my mind on every walk, swim and (almost) every meal for a year. I did it with the greatest walking buddy in the world, my sister Beth.

As for falling down, I now have strategies to protect both my knees and thoughts from slipping. To save my knees I use two poles when walking downhill. To look after my mind I draw and go into the outdoors. 

So there we go. To many more mountains. Cheers!

Sarah

P.S. I am also very sorry to all those on the Ben mountain track on May 25th 2017 for I sang multiple Disney songs at the top of my voice on descent round Lochan Meall an t’Suidhe. I was overjoyed to be walking on soft boggy grass compared to knee compacting gravel. I am sure you could tell…