Six ways the forest can improve your mental health

World Health Day benefits of forests and nature

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and we're looking at one of the most positive ways to promote a healthy mind: by heading outdoors. With spring in full swing and the weather warming up, it's the perfect time to use our natural environment to help improve our mental health.

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With the help of Forest Holidays and chartered psychologist Dr Saima Latif, we've uncovered six ways the forest can help improve your mental health this spring...

1. It rejuvenates your body and mind

Dr Latif suggests that "taking a walk in the woods is a great way to combat the stresses of modern urban living" and that there are a number of health benefits attached to the practice of 'forest bathing'. Developed in Japan in the 1980s and also known as Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is simple: a visit to a natural area and a walk in a relaxed way to achieve a calming, rejuvenating and restorative effect on the mind and body.

2. It improves symptoms of depression

A study by Mind found that 95% of those interviewed said their mood improved after spending time outside, taking them from depressed, stressed and anxious to more calm and balanced. Researchers have also found that forest bathing trips significantly decrease anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue scores.

Nature for World Health Day

3. It decreases stress levels

Research has uncovered the positive health effects of viewing natural landscapes on stress levels and speed of recovery from stress, faster physical recovery from illness and long-term overall improvement on people's health and wellbeing. Dr Latif suggests that "forests can help to lower blood pressure by reducing stress and helping to improve mental health."

Dr Latif continues: "Forest therapy is now increasingly popular in some countries and it is even available in the UK as a therapeutic counselling intervention for individuals who wish to receive support for their problems or just to de-stress, by taking in the forest atmosphere." Even having a simple natural plant in a room can have a significant impact on the experience of stress and anxiety.

4. It alleviates mental fatigue

Dr Latif says that encounters with nature help to alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind. She says: "Environments can increase or reduce stress - think about it: what we see, hear and experience at any moment can change our mood. Being in and around nature can reduce anger, fear and stress, and increase pleasant feelings. The visual access and being within a natural space helps to restore the mind's ability to focus."

Family out for a walk

5. It lowers blood pressure

A forest environment also "lowers your blood pressure, reduces your levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and increases levels of serum adiponectin, a hormone which helps prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease", says Dr Latif.

6. It helps to improve relationships

Connecting with the environment makes us more relaxed as human beings, more energised and more focused on those things in life that are more important to us. Dr Latif says: "Nature will make us appreciate humanity more, particularly those who mean something to us and whom we may have neglected or taken for granted in the past."

Best-rated natural outdoor attractions in the UK
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Best-rated natural outdoor attractions in the UK
This spectacular rock formation was formed by a landslip and consists of high cliffs, hidden plateaus and rocky pinnacles. The walk is a 6.8km loop which offers amazing views the whole way. You can access the walk from either Staffin or Uig villages.
Catbells is a short, steep climb where you'll be greeted with fantastic views of the Lake District's beautiful landscape. Catbells is found on the shores of Derwentwater, just  three miles from Keswick. From the summit you can see Derwentwater, Bassenthwaite Lake, the Newlands Valley, Skiddaw, Keswick and Borrowdale.
Derwentwater is one of the main lakes in the Lake District National Park. Located a ten-minute walk away from Keswick, visitors to the lake can walk the eight miles around it or take a relaxing 50-minute boat cruise to soak up the scenery. 

Rhossili Bay stretches for three miles and this stunning beach is especially popular with surfers, paragliders and ramblers. The village of is steeped in history and the wreck of the Helvetia, which ran aground on Rhossili Bay in November 1887, can still be seen on the beach today.

Fancy a spot of bird watching? The Bempton Cliffs are the place to be! Over 250,000 birds flock to the cliffs every year, including puffins, kittiwake and gannets. Puffins are generally best seen between mid-April and mid-July while February to October is best for gannets. 

Found in the Yorkshire Dales, Malham Cove and Gordal are home to dramatic and picturesque scenery. The cove is curved in shape and has a vertical face of about 260 feet. Gordale is a gorge that cuts right into the limestone hillside, features beautiful waterfalls and was created over the course of the last 3 million years.

Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales at 1,085m above sea level. It is also the highest point in the British Isles aside from the Scottish Highlands. Visitors can either choose to scale the mountain themselves or take advantage of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Once at the top you can enjoy views of Snowdonia, Anglesey, Pembrokeshire and Ireland.

Glen Coe in the Scottish Highlands draws walkers and climbers from all over the world. The area is home to mountains, waterfalls and lochs. Want to see it all? You can enjoy a twelve-hour Highlands Day tour for just £45 on TripAdvisor where you'll have the chance to see all in the ins and outs of the highlands. 
Steall Waterfall can be found in Glen Nevis, in the Scottish Highlands. This spectacular waterfall cascades into a huge gorge from a height of around 91m. In winter the waterfall comes to a standstill when it freezes. When this happens some courageous climbers put their skills to the test and attempt to scale the incline. 
Mam Tor and Losehill in the Peak District are some of the area’s most famous hills. From Mam Tor you can follow the crest of the Great Ridge until its end at Losehill. During the walk you'll get spectacular panoramic views of the Peak District, stretching north over the Edale Valley to Kinder Scout and the Derwent Moors.

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