Wind in your hair, pine needles in your jumper and imperceptible steps towards wellbeing

According to a study conducted by Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)‏‏‏‎, almost every Finn has nature experiences. These experiences can be swimming by the summer cottage, a bead of sweat on your forehead when searching for cloudberries from the swamps, or perhaps a walk along the fitness trails in the nearby forest after a day at work. In any case, after a nature experience you often feel relaxed and revitalised.

Wellbeing from nature

A lot is already known about the health impacts of nature. Spending time in nature relieves stress and helps you to recover from work strain. Physical contact with the land and flora, for instance by smelling, tasting and touching, will improve our body’s immunity responses and enhance healthy microbial species. The wellbeing impacts of nature can be received directly through the senses or by nature encouraging us to be active and socially integrated. Not everyone enters nature with the intention of exercising, yet steps are taken in nature without even noticing. Walking to a campfire or shoreline, nature watching and gathering wild berries, mushrooms and herbs. Thanks to the diversity of the natural environment, its fauna, landscapes, sounds, aromas and earlier nature experiences, being active in nature can do more for wellbeing than being active indoors. 

Photographed  Piia Koponen

Photographed  Riitta Pyky

Nearby nature moves the whole nation

Activating activity is the true essence for promoting good health, as a number of national diseases can be prevented by simply being more active. However, only around half of Finnish adults actually exercise enough to keep them fit. It is known that green areas close to one’s home lure people into being active. For Finns, the average distance from home to the nearest forest is an average of 600 metres, but cost-effective promotion of activity has been utilised in Finland far too little. We need more in-depth information about what type of natural environment actually persuades people to become active. Does the size or shape of the natural environment matter? Should it have trees or water? Need it be a silent place, with the feel of the forest and far-reaching views? Who does nature motivate to be active and what services do residents expect from these green areas?  

The NatureMove project – implemented by the Natural Resources Institute Finland and the National Institute for Health and Welfare – is seeking answers to these questions. The project focuses on the everyday lives of people in green areas and nearby nature, as exercising during the week is extremely significant for maintaining good health. Using more conventional exercise campaigns concentrating on measuring and testing, and by building new places of exercise, people who are already active are often met, but with local planning that takes into account the importance of nearby nature, we can move the entire population – including those who are least active. 

Spending time in nature relieves stress and helps you to recover from work strain.

Natural green areas are important for children

It is particularly important for nearby nature to be within children’s reach, as they are active closer to home than the adults. Children often enjoy spending time in natural green areas, where rocks, trees, streams and trails develop important motor skills for learning as they come into contact with the natural world. Family trips into nature strengthen a child’s relationship with nature, and in turn, this relationship with nature will affect how interesting the nature is during adult years. 

As a child, I used to cycle with my friend to play in the nearby forest. My “home” was a mossy tussock next to a one-and-a-half-metre tall spruce, whereas my friend’s “home” was at the foot of a pine tree. As suppertime approached, I would ride back home with pine needles in my hair and mud under my fingernails. Last summer, after a very long break, I returned to this same place in the forest. The forest trails we used to ride our bikes along had become overgrown, but our “homes” were still there, now shrouded by trees many metres tall. As I left the area, I had a big smile on my face, wind in my hair and needles in my jumper. 

The writer is a Sports Scientist and Wellbeing Technology Engineer who was a researcher in the NatureMove Project at the Natural Resources Institute Finland. Riitta is employed by the Oulu Deaconess Institute and handles research and development projects in the Department of Sports and Exercise. Riitta is currently completing her dissertation about the physical activity of young males, environments that affect physical promotion of physical activity of activity using technology. 

Riitta Pyky
Riitta Pyky
Sports Scientist and Wellbeing Technology Engineer
Oulu Deaconess Institute, Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine
riitta.pyky@odl.fi
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