19th June 2020

Featured / Outdoors / Mark Shayler

Going Out Out by Mark Shayler

60 10 mins 4

MMark Shayler writes about ‘Going Out, Out’, not to bars, gigs and nightclubs (our time will come) but “out, out” in nature. Mark explains the psychological benefits of being in greenspace and the importance of it for our mental health.

You all know the Micky Flanagan sketch right? The Going Out Out sketch. If you don’t you can see it here. He talks about the difference between popping out, going out, and going out out. The latter is a more determined approach to going out. It’s funny, Micky is funny. He is also right. There are varying degrees of going out. I don’t mean going out drinking or socialising, of course, I still do these even at the age of 51, I mean getting out into something approaching nature.

We are really lucky. We live in the centre of the National Forest. It is 200 square miles of replanted coal workings. Now 25 years old the trees are beginning to look amazing, full of wildlife, they’ve turned the area from black to green. As one of my neighbours says:

We moved here as a temporary thing until we could move somewhere nice. Then ‘somewhere nice’ moved here”.

So we spend lots of time out (not out, out) walking in the woods. They are beautiful and we are truly lucky. We almost take these things for granted as the woods start at the bottom of my garden. Indeed, we have nearly an acre of garden, complete with squirrels, bats, more bird species than I can name. I built a wooden studio in the garden because working here is beautiful, way better than renting an office above a shop in the nearest town of Ashby de la Zouch. So I’m always surrounded by nature, always sat in green space. The benefits of this are massive. Psychologically. The benefits of being in green space are well documented. My son, Max, has just finished his university dissertation on the mental health benefits of spending time in green space.

He sums them up thus:

“The World Health Organisation cites poor mental health and well-being as a leading cause of global disability. In the UK alone, the annual economic burden of mental health-related illness is $105 billion. This comes at a time when we are suffering a severe disconnection from natural environments, as well as suffering from the highest rates of urban stressors that we have ever had to withstand.

Across recent years, research has begun to explore the associations between nature and mental health or well-being. This research has established evidence to support a broad range of benefits which contact with nature can facilitate.

Psychological benefits:

  • Improved mental health
  • Reduced Stress
  • Reduced Depression
  • Reduced Anxiety
  • Greater happiness, well-being and life satisfaction
  • Reduced Aggression
  • Reduced ADHD Symptoms
  • Improved Sleep
  • Improved prosocial behaviour and social connectedness

Furthermore, research has established a range of physical health benefits through contact with nature.

Physical benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced Obesity
  • Reduced Diabetes
  • Improved Eyesight
  • Improved Immune function
  • Reduced overall mortality

Recent studies have begun to develop guidelines for ‘doses’ of nature, in order to achieve the optimum psychological benefit. White et al (2019) established that, compared to a week of no nature contact, the likelihood of reporting good health or well-being became significantly greater when participants spent >120-minutes in green spaces”.

So that seems pretty conclusive then (references available on request).

But what’s this “out out” stuff, Shayler?

Well, we all walk through natural space, sit in the park, walk along tree-lined paths and all of these provide some environmental and health benefits. Getting lost in nature, in green space, that’s going out, out. I’ve always been an early riser and I use that time well. Pre-lockdown I’d get out on my bike and ride the trails in the National Forest for an hour before breakfast, I’d do that with my mate. The days when I rode were better than the days when I didn’t. My mood was better, I felt like I had more time, and I had “ticked off” the all important exercise. Cycling also became a meditation of sorts. A way of ironing out the wrinkles in my mind. I loved the ride in all seasons. The winter was dark, dripping with cold rain. The brown owl would follow me around the woods, flying about 3 metres above my helmet. Then spring brings the crazy-running hares, all legs, ears and enthusiasm. Cycling to the drilling of a woodpecker and the metronomic call of a cuckoo is magical. Summer is hot and dry but the 6-7 slot is the coolest and most beautiful time to cycle. Autumn is all crunchy leaves, berries and apple-drunk wasps.

Getting lost in nature, in green space, that’s going out, out.

Mark Shayler

Since the lockdown I’ve swapped cycling each morning for walking. I run an online Qigong class at 8 each morning so we leave at 06.00 so we are back for 07.30. Just me, my wife Nic and the dog Boo.

No matter what mood we leave the house in we return in a better one. No matter how tired we leave the house we return enlivened. No matter how busy the day looks like being, when we make space for a walk we make space for ourselves and have more time, not less time, in the rest of the day. Some days it’s cold, others it’s warm. Every day the dog swims in the lake.

Now, apart from a period at University I’ve always lived in or near green space. As a kid I grew up in the countryside in Leicestershire. Making dens in hedges, climbing trees, running through fields of wheat (oh so very naughty), catching newts and fish, these were the norm. Dirty fingernails, throwing stones at rabbits, jumping in the brook, playing postman’s knock in the barley. These were normal activities. When I moved to Bradford to go to University I was really surprised to get hay fever. I’d lived with pollen for years with no problem. I didn’t understand this and it’s only recently been revealed to me. In 1949 in the USA planners and botanists wrote guidance recommending that urban planner specified male trees and female trees dropped seeds and these were a nuisance. Soon suppliers and distributors only stocked male trees. Male trees create pollen. In urban environments, it’s all male trees. That’s why I only got hay fever when I moved to a city. Some green space is better for us than others.

At the start of the lockdown I fastidiously stuck to my one walk a day. This wasn’t enough exercise so I added in a session on the Wattbike (becoming mildly addicted to Peloton at the same time). It was a life-saver. Exercise is better than no exercise. But it felt all the better when I could drag the Wattbikes outside. When the amount of outdoor exercise you could do was increased I went out for a long road bike ride through the lanes. Oh my, it was marvellous. It was more than exercise for the body, more than meditation for the mind, it was a glorious release. The sun on my limbs, the smell of cut grass, the sound of the birds and the bees, the bounce of sunlight off the canal and ponds. I love Peloton but I love pedalling through the lanes more.

I always feel better outdoors, and on our morning walks, we reflect upon this. We love the whole walk, but we particularly love the wooded part of the walk. I’d heard of forest bathing but didn’t really know what it was, other than sitting in the woods. But it is way more than that. The National Trust explains it thus:

Forest bathing or ‘shinrin-yoku’ was first developed in Japan in the 1980s, following scientific studies conducted by the government. The results showed that two hours of mindful exploration in a forest could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels and improve concentration and memory. They also found that trees release chemicals called phytoncides, which have an anti-microbial effect on human bodies, boosting the immune system. As a result of this research, the Japanese government introduced ‘shinrin-yoku’ as a national health programme.

So there you have it. Science agrees with me. Going out out is better than staying in. Going out out is better than popping out.

So go out. Go out out. Climb trees. Walk through the park. Sit in the woods. Run. Canoe. Play tennis. Play basketball. Play cricket. Even golf. Paddle. Pedal. Swim. Climb. Orienteer. Yomp. Gambol down slopes. Play tig. Go camping. Lay on your back looking at the clouds.

Clap for appreciation

Share   |  
Twitter   Facebook   Copy link
Mark Shayler

Mark Shayler a visionary, public speaker, author, writer and enthusiast who runs an innovation and environmental consultancy called Ape. He is the author of Do Disrupt: Change the Status Quo. Or Become It.

ProfileSee All

Connect with us

Our Network