Getting out when you can’t go anywhere

The world is closed. So where can you go when you can’t go anywhere, but you’ll go crazy if you don’t get out?

As we go to print, people are still able to go out for exercise, which confers a multiplicity of health and mental wellbeing benefits. A recent large scale study showed that people who get out into nature for two hours a week enjoy significantly better health than those who don’t meet this target. You can do it all in one go, or spread out over the week. Being in any form of green space, including parks, or walking by the beach offers the same benefits as a trip to the wilderness of the Cairngorms.

The health gains are on a par with the health differences associated between living in a well-off area and a deprived one. They also seem to apply to everyone, regardless of age, gender, long term illness or disability.

In fact, studies show that what you see, hear, and experience in your environment changes not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems work as well. It may be best to avoid walks that are usually busy, such as the beach promenade, the Cults to Duthie Park walking and cycling path or any of the core path network in favour of more isolated areas. That said, if you do meet people, practice social distancing etiquette.

There are plenty of local Forestry Commission sites, lochside walks, hills and less popular beaches to choose from. It looks like the National Trust for Scotland will close its castles and other visitor attractions, as well as the estate grounds, so this will be off limits. Keep in mind that the situation in changing all the time and some cities have already closed their public parks. Unnecessary travel is being discouraged so you can’t even jump in the car and drive until you find an isolated country spot that takes your fancy for a short walk.

If you’re the rugged outdoor type, then camping in your own garden may be an option. This is tremendous fun for children and has the advantage of being able to head indoors to the bathroom. You could even set up a pop up tent indoors or make a blanket fort. Make a game of it, telling stories, eating hot dogs and pretending the floor is lava. If you have a wood burner, open fire or gas hob, you could try toasting marshmallows too.

While we’re still allowed out for a stroll, nearby field margins, country roads and woods may be your best bet. Check the Scottish Outdoor Access Code for your responsibilities if you do decide to walk on farmland.

Obviously, you need to follow the latest NHS health advice and changes to what people may and may not do. If you are in a high risk category or are on lock down, you can still benefit from nature. Some studies have shown that even viewing nature out of a window lowers stress levels and mortality rates. Encourage nature to come to you. Fill some bird feeders where you can see them from your window and be surprised at how many species you can spot. This is a time for simple pleasures.

Small children will enjoy a mini-beast hunt in the garden, spotting and trying to identify all manner of bugs, bees and butterflies as well as various scurrying creepy crawlies like centipedes, millipedes, worms and beetles. There are plenty of helpful activity sheets online. When it comes to small creatures, experts believe that the chance of discovering a new species in your own back garden are surprisingly high. They reckon that there are around 7.5 million species out there we haven’t yet identified. Even now, we discover fifty new species each day, so a bit of poking around in the mud could mean you get to share your name with a slug. Mud kitchens, building a campfire, creating a den, having lunch outside or a having tent sleepover in the garden can all stop your children from killing each other.

Try to make sure you go outside, even if it’s just into your own garden for at least 15 minutes a day. It’s important to keep your vitamin D levels topped up, as many people in the North-east experience a deficiency over the winter. The NHS recommends that everyone in the UK take a vitamin D supplement over the period from October to March and it may be a good idea to continue supplementation if you are in self-isolation.

If you’re restricted to the garden, there are still plenty of exercise options available to you. Try a skipping rope, or teach your kids some old fashioned playground games like hopscotch. Kick a football around, do some stretches, jog on the spot, catch a Frisbee or play tennis against a wall. You can also try outdoor yoga or tai chi.

As well as stopping you going stir crazy, other benefits from being in nature include reduced stress levels, improved short-term and working memory, reduced levels of inflammation and a reduction in depression and anxiety, so get outside if you can.

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