After the annual festive excess and with the advent of a new year, many of us resolve to turn over a new leaf in a bid to become healthier and happier.

While an expensive gym membership may initially appeal, the chances are that by March the visits are becoming more infrequent, and eventually the thought of another mundane hour on the treadmill completely loses its allure. A much simpler and less expensive option is to strike out for the Heart of England Forest, where every visit is an adventure and the physical and mental health benefits are available for free!

The forest feel-good factor

There’s no denying that a stroll or cycle in the woods helps us to shed the daily stresses and strains of modern life and we could take a tip from the Japanese, who have embraced the calming effects of forests so much that they have even given it a name. ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ literally means ‘forest bathing’ and was developed in the 1980’s as a cornerstone of preventive health and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers conducted studies on the health benefits of spending time amongst trees and demonstrated that it creates calming neuro-psychological effects through changes in the nervous system, reducing stress, anger, anxiety and sleeplessness and boosting the immune system.

There are now 44 accredited Shinrin Yoku forests in Japan, and woodlands like the Heart of England Forest offer precisely the same health-boosting opportunities. A recent study by the UK government’s Natural England reinforced the Japanese view, with clear scientific evidence showing that getting out into the countryside can bring relief to a range of mental health issues, including depression and dementia-related symptoms.

Just the tonic

So, it’s clear that a good dose of fresh air works wonders, and it doesn’t come much fresher than in the Heart of England Forest! Whether it’s a brisk walk with the dog, or a leisurely meander whilst catching up with friends along the waymarked routes, resolving to explore the woodland would be a great way to ‘turn over a new leaf’ and usher in the New Year. There’s so much to discover, from the woods to the waterways and all the fascinating wonders of nature that call them home. Click here to find out more about the walks that could be the pathway to a new you.