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Park Talk: time in nature is good for us

11th May 2023

By Dr Gaener Rodger, Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority Planning Committee

I was delighted that the Park Authority was able to take part in the official opening of the UK’s first dedicated Outdoor Dementia Resource Centre, here in the Cairngorms National Park. The new centre – operated by Alzheimer Scotland at Badaguish, near Aviemore – enables people with dementia, their families, and carers to experience the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors. The project is part of the ‘Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030’ programme, led by the Park Authority and supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Many users of Alzheimer Scotland’s Outdoor Dementia Resource Centre are people who have spent a great deal of time in the outdoors in the past, walking the local hills or maybe they had a land based job for example. There are many activities that they can no longer partake in but just spending time outdoors is rejuvenating for them and can prompt many memories and conversations with centre staff, carers and family members.

I think it is entirely fitting that the first centre of its kind in the UK should be opened up here in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. An area famed for its breath taking scenery, its special wildlife and its friendly communities. Anyone living with dementia, their families and carers can participate in the Centre’s programme of outdoor activities. They can self-refer, making access to participation a quick and easy process. Some of the activities include gardening, walking, outdoor learning, and cycling.

Appropriately, the month of May has several themed events around promoting health and wellbeing. It’s National Walking Month, which encourages everyone to be active daily by making simple changes such as leaving the car at home and walking instead, helping to improve our physical and mental health – and making a contribution to climate change too. There is also Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year is focusing on tackling anxiety, as well as Dementia Action Awareness Week.

It is no secret that spending time outdoors is good for both our physical and mental wellbeing – many studies have shown this. It can improve your mood and reduce the feelings of stress and help combat depression and anxiety. Spending time in nature and enjoying the outdoors are examples of green solutions that can go a long way towards addressing public health issues. The Park Authority, with a wide range of partners, aims to do just that via the ‘Heritage Horizons: Cairngorms 2030’ programme, with specific projects aimed at improving peoples’ health and wellbeing such as working with the NHS on a green health referral programme.

The long-term health and wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature are well documented, and through a range of projects we can help support people to make lasting connections to nature and the outdoors.

Whether it’s viewing nature through your window and bringing the outdoors in, to stepping out into nature and taking part in facilitated activities. Our natural environment really does offer something for everyone, and everyone should have the support and opportunity to benefit in ways that serve them most.