Our Expert Lecture uncovers why walking, wellbeing and nature go hand-in-hand

We welcomed prominent speakers to our 2022 Expert Lecture to explore the ever-growing evidence into the benefits of connecting with nature.

Our event, held in Glasgow on 2 November and chaired by our CEO Kevin Lafferty, welcomed over 150 delegates working in health and physical activity promotion, transport and academia.

They heard from Scotland's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Professor Sir Gregor Smith who introduced the event, reflecting on the impact of Covid lockdowns and the need for physical activity for mental, social and physical wellbeing.

The CMO spoke about his own knowledge of the "power and importance" of being active outdoors.

Over the last two years, I've never been more convinced that the interconnectness of nature, of movement, and wellbeing run together.

During some undoubtedly hard times of recent years, I found solace, I found headspace and I found calm during morning bike rides, evening walks or runs.

Dr Smith spoke of how vital it is that health and environment sectors work together to ensure we can maximise the benefits of walking, and the role walking in nature plays towards better mental health.

The event then heard from our keynote speaker Professor David Sheffield from the University of Derby which is leading the world in its research and understanding of connecting with nature.

Professor Sheffield's presentation focused on why walking in nature is good for humans, how we can use walking to connect to nature, and how where we walk matters.

Connecting with nature also makes us more considerate of nature and pro conservation.

He also revealed a study that showed how having a relationship with nature and regularly noticing three things in nature can have lasting, positive health benefits.

People did sustain their levels of nature connectedness just from a simple intervention, even two months after it. This is a bit of a shocking finding for a psychologist. 

Most of the intervention work that we do, after a while, people go back to where they started. We can help people to change, but actually getting them to stay changed is often the key thing that psychologists are looking for and we found it in our first attempts.

We also found an improvement in people's health and that improvements in their nature connectedness are correlated with improvements in their wellbeing. But only in the noticing nature group.

Our final speaker was Shirley Gleeson, Managing Director of Ecowellness Consulting and Nádúr Centre for Integrative Forest Therapy.

Shirley's talk focused on the importance of nature connectedness for positive mental health across the lifespan, and how nature connectedness needs to be included in intervention design for green prescriptions.

She also discussed how inclusion and diversity are key factors to consider when working in the area of nature and health.

Post pandemic, the health service is in crisis. Staff are burnt out and resources are limited so we really need to find new ways of working and nature-based solutions like green exercise, Health Walks, all come under an area that's really getting a lot of attention in terms of Europe and in terms of funding.

She also spoke of the effect of nature on mental wellbeing.

When people have stress in their lives, it's more likely to tip them over the edge in terms of mental health. When we're in nature, it helps reduce everything and calm everything down. 
Nature helps us deal with strong emotions and encourages social contact and the ability to express emotion. Give people time and give people space and they will really tell you what's going on.