OS urge more people to GetOutside to boost mental health

Four tips on physical activity to co-incide with Mental Health Awareness Week.

5 minute read
Poor mental health is a growing concern in the UK, and to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May 2021), OS GetOutside Champions are offering advice about how physical activity outdoors can improve both your mental and physical health.

Professor Greg Whyte OBE, OS GetOutside Champion said: “If exercise was a pill, it would be the biggest selling drug on the planet. It’s free and accessible to everyone – just getting outside for a walk has profound benefits for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

"Lockdown has heavily impacted people’s health. What has been taken away from us is ‘normal’ life, with social isolation compounding feelings of stress, anxiety, worry and fear. We’re on the edge of periapsis and the pandemic has shone a light on the importance of physical exercise and the outdoors on the nation’s health.”

Four tips to improve mental health - Professor Greg Whyte OBE, OS GetOutside Champion:

1. Rise and shine and get outside

Morning sunlight is a natural way to help the body produce dopamine and serotonin, both essential mood-regulating hormones. We’re all exposed to a large amount of blue lights from TV, phones and computers screen, however the red light associated with the morning sun can provide a powerful counterforce to this blue light. The early morning sun increases melatonin which can assist with anxiety and make you feel happier, also making sleeping at night easier and increasing energy levels throughout the day.

2. Skip the sunglasses

Just by taking off your sunglasses for 5-10 minutes a day will gently expose the naked eye to enhance the benefits of natural light. The human eye contains photosensitive cells in its retina which connects directly to the brain, and this sun stimulation can give you more energy, keep you calm and boost our mood. Just be careful not to stare directly at the sun.

3. Walking and talking

Walking doesn’t require any specialist equipment or knowledge, and you can do it anywhere. It provides a great opportunity to improve social health by going for a walk with friends and family. Talking is also a great therapy and can improve our mood, making the nation feel happier and generally more relaxed.

4. Just open your front door

With working from home, home-schooling and restrictions, we’ve lost our sense of structure and purpose, and this can worryingly lead to apathy. With the weather warming up, now is the time to start looking forward and recreating a sense of purpose. Just a short amount of physical activity can make a huge difference, and the benefits of exercising are heightened when doing so outside. Any level of movement counts, we just need to move more instead of sitting down for prolonged periods of time.

The benefits of exercise for physical and mental health are well-known, and many mental health organisations are citing “green exercise” as a means of improving mental health with the NHS even prescribing it.

Over the last year, Ordnance Survey reported a significant increase in people creating new local routes with the OS Maps digital app, for their daily exercise and weekend rambles. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent UK lockdowns, the app saw a 78% increase in subscribers with local searches of greenspace mapping, such as parks, public open spaces and urban cycle networks increasing by over 1,000%.

Iwan Thomas, Olympic silver medallist, current UK 400m record-holder and OS GetOutside Champion, is a big advocate of talking about mental health and exercising outdoors. Iwan recently ran his first ultra-marathon (50-miles) and will take part in a 100-mile trail run from Winchester to Eastbourne on the South Downs Way in June this year.

Iwan said: “Running for me is a form of escapism and a way to empty my mind. I don’t always listen to music, it’s about the here and now, seeing things, hearing things and feeling things you wouldn’t usually. I love that about being outdoors as it gives you freedom. Nothing can replicate being outside. You don’t have to exercise for hours to get the benefits, it can just be a 10 minute walk or a 20 minute jog.”

Britain’s national lockdown has become a national sit-down, with 42% of UK adults admitting they are sitting for at least 14 hours longer a week according to ukactive.

Statistics show that prior to lockdown 1 in 4 people were affected by mental health in any given year. However during lockdown, there was a three-fold increase in the number of people reporting clinically significant levels of anxiety and depression. More women reported a significant increase in anxiety and loneliness, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.

With England at risk of a mental health crisis, Ordnance Survey is urging more people to get outside more often, to boost the nation’s health. Physical activity is known to improve mental health, and the benefits of this are further heightened when doing so outdoors.

Case study

OS GetOutside Champion Eli Bishop, 46, from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, had a mental breakdown after suffering stress from her high-pressured job in design.

She found getting out in nature was great therapy and now works as an outdoors instructor and mountaineer guide. Eli started cold water swimming two years ago and has swam almost every day during lockdown.

Eli said: “Getting outside into our beautiful countryside, our woodlands, parks and beaches can significantly improve our mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes you have to disconnect to reconnect, and just by being outside reduces anxiety and stress, because it releases those magic feel good chemicals in your body.”


Get ideas on new areas to explore on our OS Leisure GetOutside website.

Ordnance Survey
By Ordnance Survey

Our highly accurate geospatial data and printed maps help individuals, governments and companies to understand the world, both in Britain and overseas.