National parks should be made more accessible to promote mental health benefits

NATIONAL Parks should make it easier for people who traditionally do not use them to access the spaces after the lockdown ends, as more people realise the mental health benefits of engaging with nature, a Yorkshire academic has said.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park. Picture: James Hardisty

Leeds Beckett University professor Anne-Marie Bagnall, who has researched the impact of nature on people suffering with mental health issues, said the benefits of engaging with the outdoors are well-known, and those who may have made time to explore nature on their doorsteps during the one-hour period of exercise during the lockdown should be encouraged to continue with it after the pandemic subsides.

Prof Bagnall, from the University’s School of Health and Community Studies, said there is a body of evidence about how simply “being in green spaces makes us feel better”, from the calming effects of green and blue colours, to offering a distraction from our everyday stressors.

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“Being in nature can also give us a feeling of awe, that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves,” she said. “There is also a social value to spending time outside, which will be much more relevant after the restrictions end, when we are able to walk and cycle with our friends again, which is really worth investing in.

Prof Anne-Marie Bagnall. Picture: Leeds Beckett University

“Traditionally, it has been people who are more well off that have tended to have a culture of using National Parks and nature as a whole. It would be great if there were some sort on incentive to make them more accessible to a broader range of people, who might have taken this opportunity to explore the nature that is on their doorsteps.”

National mental health charity Mind has been recommending people follow the Government’s advice on going outside once a day for exercise during the lockdown.

The charity’s head of information, Stephen Buckley, said spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life “can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing”.

He said: “The colours, sounds and smells of the outdoors stimulate our senses in a way that indoor environments often don’t. Getting into a relaxing outside space can provide a welcome

distraction from any negative or intrusive thoughts, allow us to switch off from everyday

pressures and help relieve stress.”