The Natural Health Service:
As our world becomes increasingly fast-paced, we're finding it's taking a greater toll on mental health. So, finding an escape from the hustle and bustle is more important than ever. For so many people, the outdoors is their refuge, their place to find peace. We think the outdoors has something to offer everyone. Whether it’s a quiet walk to find some peace or discover nature or taking on a challenge that pushes you both physically and mentally, we all experience it in different ways and have our own unique relationship with the outdoors.
By sharing our experiences and our passion for the outdoors, we believe we can unlock the outdoors for more people and help them discover its benefits. So, we got our in-store experts, Begonia, Mark, Charlie and Jon to share what the outdoors means to them and how it helps them, from building confidence and self-worth to connecting with others.
Cotswold Outdoor Newcastle
Cotswold Outdoor Droitwich
Cotswold Outdoor South Cerney
Cotswold Outdoor Keswick
How would you describe your relationship with the outdoors?
Begonia: I’m literally in tune with the outdoors. I’m always out, whether it’s in very remote areas or perhaps in the cities or towns. For me, the outdoors is not just going out to the wild or remote areas, it’s just literally being out.
Mark: I’m extremely passionate about the outdoors. I spend a significant amount of my time, my free time, outside. I’m a climber, mountain biker, trail runner, but I also spend at least an hour outside every day with my dog.
Charlie: The outdoors to me is… it’s my life. It’s everything. The outdoors brings a sense of comfort for me, it’s my safe place and it’s a great place to have space just for me.
Jon: I’m very fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the UK – the Lake District – so my connection with the outdoors is very close. I actually moved to the Lake District so I could bring my family up in an environment which would give them good opportunities and allow them to enjoy the outdoors as I do.
Have you always been passionate about the outdoors?
Charlie: I’ve grown up farming and then camping, so ever since childhood I’ve spent all my free time outside regardless of the weather, or what I’m doing, whether it’s in a field with animals or walking the dogs or camping – I’ve never questioned it. I absolutely loved growing up on a farm, it was enlightening and eye-opening, and gave me time with my grandparents. I learnt so much and was very fortunate to have experiences that so many people don’t have. My upbringing has definitely shaped who I am.
Begonia: I’ve always been outdoorsy, maybe because I always played sport I’ve always been out in the outdoors.
Mark: I was born and raised in a small village in North Yorkshire, so from an early age I was used to spending time outside. I did an awful lot of walking and I started mountain biking to explore the North York Moors over a broader range from the late eighties, early nineties.
Jon: I was in the Scouts from a very young age, and my love for getting outdoors really came from that.
What does the outdoors give to you?
Mark: I think it’s a combination of physical and mental health benefits, so the physical benefits of the activity, whether it’s just a general walk or something more strenuous. But also, the mental health benefits of that sense of freedom, getting closer to the environment and frankly just a better appreciation of the environment around us.
Jon: Being outdoors is my bit of freedom, my bit of headspace.
Charlie: Without the outdoors I wouldn’t have the confidence I do; it’s given me so much enthusiasm for life. It gives me a sense of self-worth that I can go and do anything I want wherever I want because I can go out on my own, walk over mountains, and the feeling that gives is amazing. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learnt that more and more; it’s just incredible what it can give you.
Begonia: I think it is really important for everybody to enjoy the outdoors. Being outdoors improves my mental health and my physical health. I have to be out, because it helps me relax and helps me to be fitter as well. That’s why it’s important for me.
What’s your favourite outdoor activity?
Jon: I enjoy walking, hiking, getting up onto the fells, and in the last few years fell running too. For me, fell running is great because you get that adrenaline high, but also a sense of achievement when you reach the top.
Charlie: I absolutely love going walking, whether it’s with my family, my siblings, my dogs or just by myself. There’s just something special about going for a walk in the countryside. Especially autumn and spring when the weather has a special feel to it.
Walking, obviously it’s exercise and gives you endorphins which make you happy, but it’s a form of exercise you don’t know you’re doing, so not only are you doing exercise without realising you’re working hard, but you’re thinking, you’re releasing emotions. Sometimes just walking on your own, you go into this own space in your mind which you wouldn’t get to by doing anything else.
Mark: I spend an awful lot of time out walking my dog on a daily basis, and that offers a really great opportunity to see the season progress and particularly in my local forest to see the various flowers coming out. I spend quite a bit of time trail running and I’m an avid mountain biker too.
Begonia: Hiking is one of my favourite outdoor activities. I like moving fast. I like to feel at the end of the hike like I achieved that physical state. I like to feel worked out. I do like the feeling of exhaustion that the outdoors can offer to you on a long, fast hike.
How would you feel if you couldn’t get outdoors?
Mark: I’m not sure I can imagine a world where I couldn’t spend time outside. From a mental health point of view, that would be really hard work.
When I had cancer and went through chemotherapy treatment and surgery, that was really quite a challenging time, because there was a significant period of recovery time where I couldn’t spend time outside. But it motivated me to get fitter and to get back outside. My social life, the people I spend time with, it all revolves around outdoor activities in one form or another.
Begonia: Not being outdoors would obviously bring sadness to my mind, to my body. The outdoors is a great part of my life. It brings me calm; it brings me happiness.
How important is connecting with others outdoors?
Begonia: Connecting with people and connecting to the outdoors is a very important element to anybody. Connecting with the outdoors is the same as connecting with other people. It’s very essential to us.
Charlie: I think it’s so important that people keep connected with one another. Whether it’s a friend and colleague or a total stranger on a walk, it’s so important. It just makes you re-evaluate your life and makes you realise there’s so much more out there.
Jon: Meeting anybody that’s got any love for the outdoors, you have an instant sort of connection there which is great. It's the same with a lot of our customers as well, we have that connection with them.
Mark: I think sharing an experience outside with other people is important because as individuals we all appreciate that experience in a different way and it’s an opportunity to connect with someone and an opportunity to understand what that means to someone else.
We’re social animals, we’re not really designed to live alone. From a mental health point of view, just being able to share experiences is really important, that connection with other people and that shared connection of the outdoors.
Do you think it’s important we work together to protect the outdoors given how important it is for our mental and physical wellbeing?
Charlie: The outdoors isn’t going to go anywhere, but it’s going to change if we don’t look after it and if we don’t work together to protect it and to prolong it being there. It’s just not going to be enjoyable; it’s not going to work for us as a species. The outdoors provides us so much and if we don’t look after it there’s nothing for us there. We’ll just slowly destroy it.
Begonia: Right now, we have a huge problem with global warming. It’s important we act now because it’s just spilling out too much and we need to reduce that. It’s not a one-man job: it’s a job for everybody. We all have to have a little bit of input towards it.
Mark: It sounds like a cliché, but we only have one planet and we really do need to look after it. The ability to appreciate the environment around us with other people offers an opportunity to educate people to understand the environment and how we can look after it and experience it and continue to do so.
I think it’s so important that we have that shared experience of the outdoors, how fragile it is and how important that is to us.
Jon: The outdoor retail business is about getting people outside, so it’s our collective duty to protect it. We can do our bit by sharing our knowledge and expertise to help customers make the right choices, so that it’s there for future generations to enjoy.
When you’re struggling with your mental health, finding the motivation to get yourself outside can seem like a challenge. Here we share five tips to help motivate you to get out and reap the benefits of being in nature.
1. Set an intention to go out – If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to get outside, one of the best things you can do is set your intention to go in advance. If you’re planning to go out for an early morning walk, you could make sure your clothes and walking shoes are ready to go the night before to give you that extra motivation in the morning.
2. Make it part of your routine – You’re more likely to set aside time to go outside if you make it part of your daily routine, so decide what time realistically works best for you and try to stick to it, even if you only manage a short walk when you don't have much time.
3. Keep it manageable – We know that a walk can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing, but so can taking five minutes to sit outside in your garden or on a park bench, so don’t feel like you have to set unrealistic expectations to walk a certain distance.
4. Get outside with friends or family – Not only will making a plan to go out with somebody else make you more likely to get outside, but you’ll have somebody to chat to on your walk.
5. Explore your local area – You don’t have to travel miles to escape the hustle and bustle of your daily life. Many people may feel the outdoors isn’t accessible to them, but do a quick internet search, and you’re sure to find a range of places in your local area where you can find some peace. Even our busiest towns and cities are blessed with countryside on their doorsteps or amazing parks and gardens to explore.
We all know that getting outside can generally make us feel better - but this is for some very specific reasons, and there is a wealth of benefits to be gained from just taking a short walk. Here are our top 7 mental health benefits of getting outside.
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