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Nature Walks for Better Mental Health

By Chan Lishan, Mental Health Advocate

Walking ‘naturally’ into better mental health

I usually do my walking at parks, nature reserves, or around the reservoirs. Research all over the world has shown that engagement with nature is strongly linked to mental well-being and happiness.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom, What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis”, has found that regular exercise in natural settings helps to improve mood and self-esteem. Thus, nature walks can reduce anxiety, depression and negativity.

A study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School, Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas,” has also shown that living in greener environments has a sustained improvement on mental health.

I have found that a tranquil setting for walking soothes the spirit and calms the nerves, inducing a sense of quiet in the mind and in the body. During my walks, I forget about the stresses of life and simply focus on immersing myself in nature, connecting with the universe.

I enjoy wandering around the various trails and boardwalks, taking in the sights, smells and sounds. I look out for wildlife amongst the trees and plants, I smell the leaves and fragrance of flowers, I listen for bird calls and bird songs. With just a few minutes of walking in nature, my head feels clearer and my body more relaxed. I feel a sense of inner peace.

I like to go walking with friends and use the time to catch up as well as enjoy each other’s company. We chat and share about life, what we have been up to, our plans for the future. At the same time, we educate ourselves on the natural environment. Those of us who are amateur photographers also take pictures of the interesting sights we encounter.

There are many parts of Singapore to explore and walk around in. One must-visit spot is the tree-top walk at the Central Catchment Nature Reserve at MacRitchie, where there is a suspension bridge which gives a bird’s eye view of the surrounding secondary rainforest.  

The magic of nature

At a recent walk at Labrador Park, we saw a couple of monitor lizards, one peeking through the rocks, and a giant mudskipper feeding on a piece of bread that someone had left there.

We saw a large red-eared slider or tortoise bobbing in the stream that was clouded with silt. Asian glossy starlings were perched on arched mangrove roots nearby. We noted different types of palms trees and spotted a squirrel, and then a pair of woodpeckers. The male had a bright red crown.

Nature

We passed a heron, and then another one, wandering through the grasses in the small field next to the boardwalk. Towards the end of the walk, we waded through inches of fallen brown leaves- this was the sea almond tree, which sheds its leaves as if it were autumn. In the distance, a kite glided over the tops of the lush jungle flourishing with smilax and other tropical plants.  

There is also something magical about having in full view a landscape made up of a large variety of luxurious vegetation and undulating expanses of long grasses. I usually seek these out by travelling further out into the more remote parts of Singapore, such as Woodlands.

Describing here some of my experiences, I hope to give a sense of what it might be like. But the real and absolute benefits of walking in nature are difficult to describe in words and must be experienced for oneself.

Walking as man’s best medicine

After walking regularly for a few months, my friends commented that I looked healthier and fitter, that my cheeks were rosy, and that I had lost some weight. I was delighted to hear this.

Taking an anti-psychotic and an anti-depressant for my mental health issues, I had been inclined to oversleep and was unmotivated to exercise. I had gained weight and my self-confidence was low. I was easily tired. But walking has helped me significantly.

Aside from positive comments from my friends, I can feel the difference. I am more energetic and able to carry out more daily tasks.

According to Dr Mike Evans, Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto in his online lecture “23.5 Hours,” <add hyperlink http://youtu.be/aUaInS6HIGo> walking not only improves quality of life, it is an excellent treatment for fatigue. Walking will also keep other physical ailments at bay.                     

Hippocrates had said that walking is man’s best medicine, and indeed, walking has worked well for me. As such, I would recommend to those who are recovering from mental health issues to treat yourself to a walk in nature. Just try it out; all you need is a pair of sports shoes! If it is inconvenient to travel to a park or nature reserve, you can start by walking around the small gardens and green spaces in your neighbourhood. Enjoy the walk and the scenery and be healed!

A member of National Healthcare Group ISO   Comm Chest Award Bronze