The importance of connecting with nature for our wellbeing

Nature is the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week and Professor Debbie Cohen, one of the founders of HHP Wales, has kindly shared some thoughts on how important it is for NHS staff to connect with nature.

Hello, my name is Professor Debbie Cohen and I’m an emeritus professor of occupational medicine at Cardiff University, which means I’m retired from the NHS and from Cardiff University, but I’m not fully retired!

Towards the end of my career and since I retired I have built up a 10acre small-holding or a small farm where I breed and manage rare breed animals such as sheep, pigs and goats.

Debbie Cohen in a yellow top and jeans petting one of the goats she keeps on her farm

There is a growing amount of evidence to show that there are many benefits to being outdoors, including positive effects on both physical and mental health.

Engagement with the outdoors and the natural environment can take many forms including gardening/growing, visiting or exercising in green spaces, interacting with wildlife and taking part in conservation work.

A recently completed study by Sustainable Health Care found that across three NHS sites included in the study there was a strong appetite among health staff to take time outdoors, with up to 89% of staff reporting that they would like to spend more time in green space at their site than they currently did (1). 

Staff who said they regularly spent time in their sites’ green spaces during the working day reported significantly higher levels of wellbeing.

The most common way in which staff spent time in green space at work was taking a walk at the site during a break.

A young dark haired woman walking along a path through a park

Something else I’ve also learnt on my journey in my new occupation is how to manage the land, how to think about how to build up my land which had been left fallow for over 10 years.

In the face of climate crisis and loss of biodiversity farming and those concerned with the natural environment have had to think big about how they could regenerate and recreate a system that is more sustainable.

The challenge here for the NHS is to think about what we can learn from these ideas about sustainability and restoration from the natural environment that we can use to develop and create a more sustainable workforce as well as a more sustainable healthcare system?

Space to breathe: valuing green space at NHS sites for staff wellbeing

We need to think bigger, we need to be bold and learn from others; thinking holistically about organisations in the same way we would think about restoring a natural environment and how we can continually regenerate something that becomes sustainable.

For example, adding nitrogen as a quick fix to soil without caring for what depletes it is not sustainable. We’ve got to get the foundations of the soil right to support healthy growth.

So what can we learn from what has been going on around us?

Why not click on some of the following videos to see what some of my friends and colleagues have been thinking about.

What ideas could you take and use?

Sue Pritchard – Chief Executive of the Food Farming and Countryside Commission

Kim Stoddart – Gardening journalist, writer and editor

Apologies if there are issues viewing this video in the blog, it is available here on Youtube.

Dom Higgins – Head of Education and Health at the Wildlife Trust

Thanks and video credits to Ben Harris

1.  Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (2020).  Workplace, Wellbeing and Green Space


HHP Wales

Health for Health Professionals Wales (HHP Wales) offers access to mental health support for all NHS Wales employees, students and volunteers. 

HHP Wales is a free, confidential service that is supported by Welsh Government funding and administered through Cardiff University.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *