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4 Jan 2024

Time spent outdoors improves mental health and wellbeing

Written by Sarah Burnett
A woman and her two children lean on the edge of a stone bridge in woodland, smiling.
89% of people surveyed said spending time outdoors enhances their quality of life.
New research for the Trust has highlighted the importance of access to the outdoors for improving people’s quality of life and reducing stress.

A survey carried out for the National Trust for Scotland shows that 97% of Scots believe access to the outdoors is important for their mental health, a point that is particularly significant at this time of year when the wintery weather and dark nights can deter people from heading out.

Dundonians have been unveiled as the strongest advocates for spending time outdoors, with 99% agreeing it’s important for their overall wellbeing, closely followed by people from Inverness (97%) and Glasgow (96%). The research also found that 95% of those surveyed said spending time outdoors was effective at reducing their stress levels, with 89% stating that it enhances their quality of life.

The Scottish coast topped the polls as the preferred place to spend time outdoors (58%), followed by 50% who favoured woodland spaces and 48% choosing country parks or gardens. The popularity of a wide range of landscapes, and their value to people’s wellbeing, has highlighted the importance of our charity’s work to care for, protect and share Scotland’s outdoor places.

Two people standing together in woodlands, looking up at a tree.
The survey results have highlighted the importance of the Trust’s work to protect and share Scotland’s natural heritage.

With over 100 places in our care across Scotland, we aim to ensure that people of all ages have the opportunity – both now and in the future – to discover new places, make memories and learn more about Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage, all while experiencing the positive wellbeing impact of the outdoors. Our countryside places range from the spectacular Corrieshalloch Gorge NNR, to stunning forests at the Hermitage, beautiful landscaped gardens at Crathes Castle and Culzean, and the opportunity to bag another Munro (when weather conditions are right) at Mar Lodge Estate NNR.

Clea Warner, the National Trust for Scotland’s Regional Director for Highlands & Islands, said: ‘Our charity is privileged to look after some of the country’s most beautiful natural heritage, and every day we see the positive impact that the great outdoors can have on wellbeing and mental health.

‘It doesn’t have to be an epic climb of a mountain or extreme water sports – it can be as simple as a walk around a peaceful garden or beside the bracing Scottish coastline. Whether you’re looking for a family day out, to make new memories with friends, or discover a new experience, there’s a place and activity for everyone.’

“All of us at the National Trust for Scotland are proud to play our part in looking after and providing access to outdoor places, offering residents and visitors to our incredible country the chance to make the most of the positive wellbeing impacts of the outdoors.”
Clea Warner
Regional Director for Highlands & Islands
A smiling woman stands on a grassy hillside, with dramatic mountains behind her. She has shoulder-length fair hair and wears a National Trust for Scotland outdoor jacket.

Clea continued: ‘It’s thanks to the generosity of our members and supporters that we can continue our vital work of caring for and sharing Scotland’s most special places, helping to create memories that last a lifetime.’

In further support of our work to share the benefits of nature and the outdoors, we appointed Dr Cal Major, vet, adventurer and advocate for nature and the oceans, as our ambassador in 2023. Speaking frequently about how the outdoors has enhanced her own mental wellbeing, Cal’s role as ambassador is helping to raise awareness of the Trust’s important work, particularly around the conservation of natural spaces.

A woman sits on the edge of a sailing boat out at sea. She holds binoculars around her neck.
Dr Cal Major, ambassador for the National Trust for Scotland

Commenting on the research results, Cal said: ‘Over the course of my career, I have discovered that an appreciation of what it means for their wellbeing is why lots of folk feel a strong connection to nature. This often translates into a recognition of its importance in their lives and a desire to protect it.

‘Beyond the National Trust for Scotland’s survey results, there is scientific research showing that nature, especially blue spaces such as the ocean, is beneficial for our human wellbeing. This seems logical – as humans, historically we would have been hard-pushed to survive without it, so it’s no wonder we’re drawn to it. But in our modern society, which is so fast-paced and disconnected from nature, making space for it in our lives has never been more important. And equally, nature has never needed us to stand up for its protection more.’

“It can offer joy and laughter and connection to other people, an opportunity to top up our nature batteries and stay well, or a path to healing. For me, the outdoors is very much my go-to for staying well, and it is hugely reaffirming to hear this is the case for many other people around Scotland.”
Cal Major
Ambassador for the National Trust for Scotland
A woman paddleboarding near the entrance to a sea cave.

Many National Trust for Scotland places are open all year round, enabling you to blow those cobwebs away and experience some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes, whenever you like.

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