14 May 2023

Get outdoors for a dementia-friendly health walk

Our bodies and minds love being in nature, whether we remember it or not

By Ellie Wilson

Group of people looking at plants in the Davies Alpine House

Getting out in nature is good for us. Our brains and bodies work better, and we feel more at peace: not just in the moment, but for hours afterward.

Getting outdoors is something everyone can do – and the benefits are worth it. In their own words, here are some of the regulars of Kew’s free dementia friendly health walks on why they love being in the great outdoors.

Three women hugging a tree and smiling
Community Open Week 2023 © RBG Kew

Nature is good for us - even if we don’t remember it

Just being outdoors lowers our blood pressure and releases mood-boosting hormones, like serotonin, while moving your body has lasting health benefits. People with dementia reap those benefits whether or not they remember going outdoors.

It’s absolute freedom and we all need it, especially people like me,” says Rob, who has dementia and enjoys coming to Kew for a guided ramble. “Being out there just makes you feel better! You definitely remember more when you come back. You’re in a better mood as well, which makes things easier at home.

Another dementia friendly health walk regular says: “My family member with dementia often doesn’t remember coming to Kew or going out to the park, but she always seems happier for the rest of the day. It makes things much nicer for both of us.”

Fresh air, greenery and exercise are all effective mental health boosts for carers as well, especially for those at risk of stress and burnout.

Group of people walking along Kew vista

Nature jogs memories

From playing outdoors as kids to smelling the flowers in a wedding bouquet, nature is there in our strongest, earliest and happiest memories. For people with dementia, these are the memories that linger the longest.

"Going out for walks or going to the woods often reminds me of the fun of being a kid. I’ll see a bit of wood and I’ll think, ‘that would make a great sword, or bow and arrow'" - Rob, dementia friendly health walk attendee

Health walk
Health walk © RBG Kew

Moments of joy

We all need moments of happiness, says dementia inclusivity consultant Seiwa Cunningham, who trains volunteers to lead Kew’s dementia-friendly health walks.

"When you have dementia, so much can feel like work: doctor’s appointments, check-ups, memory clinics. Going out [into nature] can be so lovely, as it is something that can just be for joy. Not a task, not a chore, just enjoyable."

When it’s harder to get around and not everywhere is accessible, staying home might feel like the least stressful way to make it through the day. You or your loved one can end up stuck indoors out of habit, but you might not realise how much it helps to go outdoors until you try.

"In nature we get respite, from the mundane day to day jobs at home and ongoing health issues. Plus, improved well-being and exercise. Kew provides such wonderful stimulation."

- a Kew dementia friendly health walk attendee

Accessible tour
Accessible tour © RBG Kew

Human connection

Whether you’re on a walk around Kew or your local park, getting outdoors and paying attention to your surroundings can help you feel more connected - even if you find it hard to have a casual chat.

“My mum can’t speak English, so we can struggle to find activities. Going out to green places is one of her favourite things to do.”

- Sue, dementia friendly health walk attendee

Time spent outdoors with our fellow human beings is a way to emphasise the things we can do rather than those we can't. Socialising is great for cognitive function and it's also a chance to get to know other people who understand where we're coming from.

“The programme at Kew helps to connect with people with the same illness and to share our different experiences together, which we can all benefit from."

- Joyce, a Kew dementia friendly health walk attendee supporting her father with dementia

A string of orange bunting featuring "Community Open Week Kew" in white, strung alongside fairy lights on a tent against a blue sky

Come for a ramble at Kew

Free dementia-friendly health walks run at Kew Gardens once a month, designed to be accessible for people with dementia and led by trained volunteers. They include free entry to the gardens and carers, family and friends also go free. You’ll need to book in advance by emailing discovery@kew.org or phoning 07341114533.

Kew Gardens and Wakehurst both run Community Access Schemes which offer year-round free visits to the gardens for community groups. There’s also the annual Community Open Week at Kew Gardens each year: a jam-packed programme of fun, accessible activities including games, tours and craft workshops. If you run a community group, you can register to join the Community Access Scheme here.

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