Urban hikes for mental health

One of our amazing Bird associates Jo also runs a project called Urban hikes for mental health. In our workshops here at Bird we sometimes explore the power of physical movement for wellbeing, and of course recognise and champion the power of discussion and sharing as a way to feel well and resilient. Jo’s approach combines the two, and she is writing for us this week to share what brought her to set up this accessible and inspiring project. She is holding a launch event in April that I would encourage you to come along to – I will be there too so it will be fab to see you in person should you decide to come along.

So, over to Jo…

‘Four years ago, I was in training for a walking event. I went out walking every weekend and some evenings, mostly in London as that is where I live. One of the many things I noticed through doing this was how much walking improved my mental health. As someone who had spent the previous fifteen years largely indoors – studying, working in the not-for-profit sector, clubbing and commuting (and experiencing recurrent depression) – this was something of a revelation.  How could something so simple, free and available every day be so positive and powerful? How have us city dwellers become so disconnected from the outdoors, one another and ourselves? And more importantly, what can we do about it?

The positive effects of walking in nature on our mental health have been well-documented. For example, a Stanford-led study found quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression. Previous research also indicated that those living in cities have a 21% increased risk of anxiety disorders and a 39% increased risk of mood disorders. At the same time, the world’s population is increasingly urbanizing – the UN predicts that 68% of the global population will inhabit urban areas by 2050.

This presents city residents with a conundrum. For many of us, leaving the city for the suburbs or the countryside is not an option, or even desirable. What we can do instead is create space within the city to look after our mental health. We can actively look for nature amongst the concrete. We can take time out from rushing from home to tube to office and back. We can look away from our screens. We can get outdoors and walk, wherever we live. This is why I created Urban Hikes for Mental Health. Every hike connects the urban with the natural along the route. We pause in the green spaces for guided conversations with one another about how to improve our mental health and wellbeing. We practice mindfulness with a qualified practitioner. We discover London’s hidden gems, both urban and natural. We connect with ourselves, our surroundings and one another. On one route, we can even go for a wild swim.

Urban Hikes for Mental Health is for everyone, whether you identify as having a mental health condition or not. My hope is that this movement will inspire urban dwellers to walk and talk more, to slow down, to be curious, to connect, to notice nature in the city and above all, to take care of our mental health.

Want to find out more? Register here for the free Urban Hikes for Mental Health launch party in Waterloo on Saturday 4th April. Discounted tickets for this year’s urban hikes will be available to buy on the night.’

Photo of London by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

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