The physical benefits of exercise are well known, but did you know that nature-based activity is good for your mind too? Those amazing south coast national parks are more than just havens for flora and fauna, they are also part of the solution to a happier and healthier community.

From better concentration to more rapid recovery from illness to reduced feelings of anxiety and depression, taking time out in nature is proving time and again to be the ultimate tonic for today’s technology stressed society.

And you don’t have to spend days out in the bush or be a wilderness enthusiast to reap the benefits. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reduces rumination and can help to significantly lower the risk of mental illness compared to a similar walk through an urban environment.

In fact, the evidence is so compelling that Beyond Blue now advocates bushwalking as one of the activities for managing moderate anxiety and depression. And Mind, a British mental health organisation, considers green exercise as a clinically valid treatment for people experiencing mental distress.

The ultimate green exercise?

When it comes to green exercise, bushwalking provides the perfect balance between good, low impact physical activity and a wellbeing workout. And unlike some pavement pounding activities, it can be performed at an individual’s own pace, with no expensive equipment or specialist knowledge required.

“We have members ranging in age from 20 to 95, from first time bushwalkers to outdoor fitness enthusiasts,” says Dave Gallen, President of the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) Far South Coast Branch.

“In our program, each walk is graded between 1 (easy) and 5 (difficult) so people can choose an activity that fits their abilities.”

Because bushwalking involves uneven terrain, your body has to work harder to keep you stable. This uses muscles that are not needed in an urban environment and leads to improved balance and strength. Bushwalking also works your legs, glutes and core muscles more than street walking.

Add to this increased heart and lung fitness, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, and improved management of health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, and you can see that the health benefits of bushwalking are a no brainer. By connecting with nature, you are setting yourself up for a healthier, happier, and longer life.

Multiplying the benefits

Walking as part of a club further enhances the social and mental benefits of outdoor exercise. It increases social links, increases social cohesion and improves confidence, motivation and interest in life.

“If you are not confident in your ability to navigate your way through the bush, then local bushwalking clubs are a great place to start,” says Dave Gallen. “All of NPA’s walks are led by highly experienced guides who will safely lead you along some of the south coasts’ most spectacular natural trails.”

“We welcome new people of all ages and experience to our bi-monthly walks in a relaxed and invigorating environment.”

“We are lucky that we don’t have to venture far on the south coast to find a beautiful natural space to stretch our legs in. Science and common sense tell us that green exercise is a prescription for a better life – I for one am taking it.”

For more information on NPA’s local bushwalking activities and memberships, contact Kim Taysom from the Far South Coast branch on fscoast@npansw.org.au

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