By Monica Bhatia
Some people may question, “What’s so special about a park?”. Even though the idea of stretches of green grass and stoney paths may be seen as boring to some, these places are the ones we can always rely on; they are always free, often accessible, and have been one of the safest and only places we have been able to turn to for the past year or so. Not to be stereotypical and discuss the revelations I have had during this lockdown, but many months after not leaving my home, I stumbled across a park that is a one minute drive from my home – I have lived in the same house all of my life and I never knew this place existed – and since then, going for a quick lap around this park has been the highlight of my days and weeks. It provided me with a place to exercise, a place to think and breathe, and a place to get away. Parks feed the nation with so many rich benefits, and in this post I am going to discuss a mere few of the beautiful gifts that parks provide us with.
Physical health – run, walk, cycle or jog, these parks provide paths that allow us to get our steps in in an environment that is peaceful and calm. Different routes allow for different amounts of exercise, and in addition to this, many parks are fitted with gym equipment! You can easily argue that one could simply walk down the street for their daily walk, buy some home exercise equipment or head to the gym for a work out, yet there is something about parks that makes the often daunting idea of working out more comfortable. Walking down the street is great, but the thing about streets is it is often just houses after houses – this almost mundane surrounding can lead to demotivation when it comes to exercise, yet in a park, there is always the option to try something new! You can take a new path each time, or even if you choose to take the same one, I guarantee there will always be something new there that wasn’t there the day before – this could be as simple as a new bug or bird sound, or something drastic and beautiful like the colours of the leaves on trees changing – either way, this ever changing environment can be the factor that motivates people to visit and therefore exercise in parks every day. In regards to working out in the gym or in your homes, I understand that a lot of people almost feel embarrassed about working out in front of regular gym goers or family, but in parks there is a certain comfort in knowing that everyone is here to do the same thing – just go for an easy walk! In addition to this, if you’re lucky you will have a dog run up to you, and I can’t think of anything more motivational than that.
My go to walk route in my local park!
Mental health. This is what I have gained the most from these parks. The quiet, the fresh air, and the open space combined provides an environment perfect for organising your thoughts, or given that parks create a world separate to the crowded urban streets, the option to leave your worries at the gate and get back to them when you’re ready. Whenever I find myself stressed, I often get so frustrated that I can’t make myself feel better where I am in the house – I ask myself “why do I need to go somewhere to clear my head?” – but that’s precisely the issue. You cannot make yourself feel better in the environment that is stressing you out, from the mound of homework laying on your desk to the loud hustle and bustle going on in your kitchen, to feel better, you need to get away from the source of worry. I can fully admit that now, sitting at my laptop with a huge to do list of tasks ahead of me, that a simple 10 minutes outside would make me feel miles better.
I remember exactly how I felt when I took this one! I’d been sitting at home for 3 days straight, and felt so demotivated. I went to the park to get a break and saw the blossoms and remembered it was the beginning of spring! And while I was still stressed, simply seeing the blossoms provided me with a mental boost.
Hobbies and education. The fact that something as simple as a space full of grass and trees could open up so many doors and interests is mind boggling! While these links may not seem direct, the sheer beauty of a park can stimulate something in us creatives, this thing being inspiration! The colours, sounds, and feelings you can gain while in your park can fuel you with ideas to put in a vast array of things you do, whether it’s the things you do for fun such as music or art, or the things you have to do such as school assignments or projects – I’m an A Level student, and I can find myself in a biology lesson learning about anything from photosynthesis to the food web and I can actually think to myself “wait – I’ve seen this happen!” even if it was simple observing a leaf or seeing a bird gobble up a worm. I think a huge, direct hobby that I have gained from my parks is photography – not even anything special; I strolled into the park with nothing but my phone camera, and I left with a gallery full of pictures that were fairly decent, and since then whenever I go somewhere where there is a chance of coming across a spot of nature, a camera is always at the ready – this may seem simple, or uninteresting to some, but having this simple hobby to fall back on that has no commitments, pressure, and is free of charge provides me with so much joy.
Finding moss in the park gives me an example of a component of a woodland area when studying ecosystems!
Community – this links to my last point. Let’s just say, if you’re a nature lover, that instantly makes you part of a pretty cool community – as I started to post the pictures mentioned above on my social media, I found myself being embraced into a community of wildlife photographers that I didn’t even know existed – the ability to talk, text and share with talented photographers all across the globe was a blessing in a time where I couldn’t even leave the house to see friends, and none of this would have happened had I not ventured into a park and took some simple photographs.
One of my favourite bits of nature photography.
To conclude, I want to acknowledge how lucky I am to have a park on my doorstep – I understand that this is a privilege that not many have (if you’d like to help us ensure that this isn’t the case, keep up with our Nature Nearby campaign, we are all over the idea of equal access to nature like a rash!), yet if you are one of the lucky ones, all I can say is go. No commitments or anything, but just go for a little bit of your day, and I promise you that there will be something incredible to gain.