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Be Well, Move Happy: Gardening & Connecting with Nature

Spring is a wonderful time of year to get out and enjoy our natural world. Sara Whatley looks at connecting with nature for wellness and gardening for fitness

We are natural beings. It’s easy to forget this as we live such plugged-in lives nowadays, but historically, and bodily, we flourish when living symbiotically with nature.

Getting into nature as much as possible, exposing yourself to sunshine (safely) and enjoying the wonderful physical and mental health benefits this brings us is something we can all try to achieve, no matter where we live or what we do.

This month I will be looking at different ways to connect with nature for wellness, and how to enjoy gardening for fitness.

WELLNESS: CONNECTING WITH NATURE

It is widely known that connecting with nature is good for our bodies, minds, and our hearts. And the great news is there are many different ways to do it!

Nature is all around us, even if you live in a city or town. It’s simply finding ways to connect; look out for urban foxes or squirrels; cloud gaze out your window; or watch the sun set over the city.

Visiting natural spaces is a great way to connect to nature. Get into green spaces such as forests, parks and gardens and open countryside, or blue spaces such as beaches, rivers, and wetlands.

Take a guided tour: many nature reserves offer dawn or dusk tours to help you really connect and see nature in a new way. Or perhaps a foraging tour is more your thing, so you can learn a new skill while you connect to nature too.

Exercising outside is a brilliant way to be in nature. You could run around the park with your kids or take an exercise class outside. Sailing and water sports are fun vigorous activities, or how about horse riding in the countryside?  

Try to connect to nature with all your senses. This might be listening to the hum of bees and insects or feeling the heat of a bonfire. It might be plunging into cold water when wild swimming, or bird watching. Try going barefoot and feeling the grounding sensation of your toes in the grass/sand/water.   

Take your creativity outside! Whether you enjoy dancing, singing, art, flower arranging or photography, take it outside and be inspired by the natural world around us. 

As the weather warms up a few nights camping truly gets you into nature. Be gently woken by the dawn chorus and watch the stars as you sit round the campfire in the evenings. Pure bliss.

A brilliant way to feel connected to nature and do your bit for the environment as well is to get involved with a community conservation project or clean up group or start one yourself!

If you can’t get into nature for whatever reason, there are lots of ways to bring nature to you. Watch a nature documentary or listen to a podcast. Find nature in art, books, soundscapes, and music. Bring flowers and plants into your home, eat fresh local produce, and open the windows.

MOVEMENT: GARDENING

Gardening is one of those hobbies that offers up rewards in abundance. It can give you produce to eat and keep our bodies fit and healthy. It can be creative; calming; and restorative. It can be fun and help us to connect to others. It offers endless possibilities.

Depending on your stage of life and abilities, gardening can be adapted to your own physical needs. Even if you simply sit and pot bulbs you are bringing movement to your day.

Did you know that when you get your hands dirty certain microbes in the soil trigger a release of serotonin in our brains? That’s right, gardening can actually make us happier and help depression.

For those with no access to a garden, caring for houseplants can be hugely beneficial. Or you could also think about joining a community garden or allotments, which would not only give you all the rewards of gardening but also bring a welcome social element too.   

A good trick to remember in the garden (and in general!) is to alternate your movements from low to high and high to low. This will help prevent overworking your body in one particular area, which might cause strain or injury. So, get down for a bit of weeding, then stretch up high for some pruning or hedge cutting. Exert yourself with the lawnmower, then take a breather with some light deadheading.

Try to incorporate side-to-side movements as well as bending and stretching for a full body workout. It’s also a good idea, if you are going in for a vigorous gardening session, to limber up first and stretch it out afterwards.

Light gardening work will burn between 200 and 300 calories per hour, and a heavy-duty gardening hour could see you burn up to 550, phew!

If you love your gardening and want to carry on doing it into your golden years, you can take steps to future proof your garden. Installing high raised beds will help to keep bending to a minimum, as will replacing high maintenance herbaceous border plants for low maintenance shrub varieties. Mulch to suppress weeds. Invest in a garden kneeler and some lightweight long handled tools. And ask for help with heavy jobs!

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