EXERCISE

5 simple outdoor activities that boost your wellbeing

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on May 15, 2024

5 simple outdoor activities that boost your wellbeing

From higher quality sleep to overall wellbeing boosts, the Happiful community reports experiencing the power of movement first hand. So, how can you make outdoor activities a priority?

“Take a walk”, “get some fresh air”, “it’s time for a change of scenery”. You’ve probably heard these phrases thrown around as solutions to low mood and anxiety, and while they can seem too good to be true, there could be something in them.

“Exercise serves as a powerful outlet for releasing pent-up tension and stress,” explains therapist and Counselling Directory member Abigail Holman. “Whether it's through yoga, dancing, or simply going for a brisk walk, physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins – our body's natural mood elevators. These feel-good neurotransmitters not only help to alleviate stress but also promote a sense of relaxation and wellbeing, making it easier to unwind and fall asleep at the end of the day.”

One solution won’t fit all, and in order for exercise to benefit someone who is struggling with their mental health, they first need to be in the position to manage it – and this might mean working with a mental health professional or being prescribed medication for some. But, for many, the positive effects are already being felt.

In a Happiful survey of 1,287 participants, 61% reported that they had experienced the profound benefits of outdoor activities for their mental health, with 57% going on to share that regular exercise and daily movement positively impacted their quality of sleep, too.

“One of the key mechanisms through which movement promotes better sleep is its ability to regulate our body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm,” Abigail explains. “By exposing ourselves to natural light and engaging in physical activity during the day, we signal to our bodies that it's time to be awake and alert. This helps to synchronise our internal clock with the external environment, leading to more restful sleep at night.”

But the results of the survey also come at a time when Happiful’s sister site Counselling Directory saw a significant increase in the number of users seeking information on stress. With April 2024 showing a rise of 47% compared to the previous year. Additionally, ‘feeling sad’, ‘loneliness’, and ‘low self-confidence’ also emerged as some of the most frequently searched topics during this period.

For those who are keen to incorporate more exercise and movement into their daily routine, Abigail has some advice:

“Incorporating movement into your daily routine doesn't have to be daunting or time-consuming. It can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the lift, practising gentle stretching exercises before bed, or scheduling short breaks throughout the day to stretch and move your body. The key is to find activities that you enjoy and that can easily be integrated into your lifestyle.”

Ready to head outdoors and reap the rewards of outdoor activities? We’ve got five quick tips to send you on your way:

1. Search for local walking routes

You’ll most likely be aware of a quick loop you can do around your local area, but there may be trails off the beaten path for you to unlock and discover. Libraries are a great place to start when looking for local walking guides. But you can also search for walks near you on alltrails.com. accessiblecountryside.org.uk is also a fantastic resource for finding accessible routes across England.

2. Take up a sport

Tennis, netball, cricket, outdoor bowling, five-a-side football, archery, paddleboarding – the list goes on. Is there a sport that you’ve always wanted to try? Or even just one you enjoy watching and are intrigued to learn more about? A lot of local clubs host taster or drop-in sessions, so you can get an idea of whether the sport is a good fit for you.

If competition is your thing, you may be able to join in with local leagues, but there are usually plenty of options for those who enjoy sport recreationally. Local council websites sometimes host directories of the county's sports clubs, but most will also be discoverable through a Google search, or asking around for recommendations.

3. Enjoy a spot of gardening

The wellbeing benefits of gardening in and of itself are widely recognised, but it’s also a means of getting in movement in an enjoyable and often subtle way. Even so, the NHS lists mowing the lawn among one of its recommendations for low-impact exercise, and moving across a flower bed as you search for weeds may take more effort than you first thought. All that said, with gardening being such an enjoyable hobby for many, you may find you hardly notice the effort you're putting in while you’re at it!

4. Meet up with friends in local beauty spots

With loneliness being on the minds of many of us, this tip combines the benefits of walking outside with the boost we can get from spending time with friends and loved ones. Rather than meeting up for a chat in a coffee shop, why not get your coffee to-go and head out for a stroll? With the steady, companionable movement of the walk, you may also find yourself opening up to each other with more ease than you would do sat across the table.

5. Try your hand at nature photography

No fancy equipment is needed here, just grab your phone and head out in search of the perfect shot! Follow your feet and train your eye to the world around you. Take photos of things that are beautiful to you, or which strike you as interesting or thought-provoking. It’s a great way to tune in to the world around you and reap the benefits of being immersed in the outdoors – plus, you’ll likely lose count of the steps you’re taking as you’re compelled to find your next great photo.

Whatever way you do it, know that even the smallest steps turn into progress. And countless rewards could be waiting for you on the other side of your front door.

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