Not Just a Walk in the Park
By Marian Connor
I was thinking about nature, nature in London to be exact. Last week I had a conversation about living in London with someone who grew up in a more rural setting and although they enjoyed the benefits of living in a big city, they missed being close to nature, being able to see the seasonal changes of plants and trees and having ready access to open spaces.
I too am very fond of big open spaces, I understand the important role access to nature plays in our wellbeing, physically and psychologically. The opportunity to observe seasonal changes through plants, water and wildlife certainly gives us a sense of rhythm, allows us to be aligned to seasonal energy, besides just giving us space to breathe and shake off the dust.
I love green and water but I live in a city and I have done so all my life. Escaping to more natural settings is always enjoyable when you can but I think it is important to encounter a little of that joy as frequently as possible. So I developed a nose for nature. I seek out open space, parks and waterside pathways that allow me to get a regular fix of natural things. I realise being in tune with nature and its rhythms takes a little forethought and effort in any big city, especially if like me you don’t have the luxury of a garden but I know the effort pays off exceedingly well.
City dwelling can be tough sometimes but you can still embrace many aspects of nature amongst the noise and skyscrapers.
“Cities give us collision. Tis said, London and New York take the nonsense out of a man.”
Ralph Waldo Emmerson
There are many well documented benefits to spending time outside, it feeds our human need to engage with nature.
Studies have shown a reduction in the symptoms of depression in participants who have taken part in horticultural programmes.
Whilst walking outdoors you will be able to experience more positive emotions and perceive the walk to require less exertion, than the identical effort taking place inside on a treadmill.
Just 20 minutes walking outside each day will boost energy levels, lift your mood and make the rest of your day more productive.
Being outside in natural settings can activate areas of the brain that affect positive outlook and will boost immunity.
Now you may be thinking that’s all very well but perhaps the great outdoors of London is not quite on par with wide open spaces. And you may well be right but when it comes to influencing our wellbeing it seems any exposure to nature will do the trick.
A study at Kansas City University found that hospital patients with plants in their rooms had a better rate of recovery post surgery than those who did not. They requested less pain medication, had lower blood pressure readings and recorded less feelings of stress.
Another study found that participants who were just shown pictures of natural landscapes had an increase in positive mood and a greater recall of happy memories compared to those shown images of urban environments.
So it would seem that if a plant or a picture can be beneficial to our wellbeing, maybe a little exploration of your city to find some open space regardless of its size will make you feel better still.
We know there is nothing to compare to the beauty of rolling hills, wild beaches, meandering streams and ancient forests but if you’re willing to get out there London has untold opportunities for getting just enough green to make you feel good.
London may not be as eco friendly as Scandinavian capitals but Eco Watch rates it as the 5th greenest city in the world. That means it’s bursting with plants, trees and water which improves air quality and provides open spaces for physical activity, social interaction and silence.
There are pathways beside the Thames, networks of canal towpaths and nature reserves (the London Wildlife Trust manages 40 of these across the capital). Historical pockets of green in the City of London and new pockets planned into recent developments. There are council run parks, city farms, the open spaces of commons, heath, garden squares, the fee paying gardens of Kew and Hampton Court as well as 8 Royal Parks.
It seems there is so much open space, you wonder where all 8 million of us squeeze ourselves to live?
Whether you are walking the dog or jogging, adding to your 10,000 daily steps or interval training, picnicking or learning how to juggle, practising Tai Chi or Parkour. Viewing Peregrines atop Tate Modern or butterflies in Abney Park Cemetery, taking a speed boat ride or sitting in meditation. Yomping over Hampstead Health or reading seated in a deck chair in St James Park, catching fish in Redbridge or avoiding deer in Richmond – London has a space for you.
“The charm of London is that you are never glad or sorry for ten minutes together. In the country you are one or the other for weeks.”
As I have said before lace up those shoes, point your feet out of the door and go discover some nature on your doorstep.
Here’s a little something to get you started:
Here is a taste of a Walk in the Park.
A city is the creation of the human will.
Upon the natural of the field,
Determined by the radiations of the sun and the swing
of the seasons,
Man imposes a human space,
A human skyline,
A human time,
A human order.
A city is not a flower.
It does not grow right by itself.
A human creation,
It needs the human powers of intelligence and forethoughts.
Without them it becomes only a monument to human greed
Out of control, like a malignant tumour,
Stunting and destroying life.
And the parks and open spaces inside the city:
Battersea Park and Bostall Woods,
Clapham and Tooting Commons,
Peckham Rye and the island gardens of Poplar,
The Regent Canal and the Round Pond of respectable Kensington,
And pram-covered Hampstead.
Areas of light and air where the bands boom on Sunday
Space for strollers,
Liberty for lovers,
Room for rest,
Places for play.
It belongs to them, to make it what they choose.
For democracy means faith in the ordinary man and woman,
in the decency of average human nature.
Here then in London build the city of the free.
W H Auden
Image Tile/Header – Exploring a hollow tree in Hyde Park, 1950’s London by R.S.Magowan
Hyperlink – Londinium by 8 in the Universe
YouTube – Travel London: Parks and Gardens by soniatravels – duration- 00:03:08
Hyperlink – Weekend Walks: Four Royal Parks by Nick Young for the Londonist
Hyperlink – How Parks Got Their Names by Matt Brown for the Londonist
If we have whet your appetite for further discovery, keep in mind that we create interactive experiential workshops and events embracing 8 elements, exploring a myriad of ways to enhance your health and happiness.
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