The mental and spiritual benefits of time spent in nature go far beyond exercise. More doctors should prescribe it
Suffering from a profound depression in the year 1730, the young Samuel Johnson would walk from Lichfield to Birmingham and back in an attempt to raise his spirits; 90 years later, in 1820, the wit and cleric Sydney Smith wrote a thoughtful letter to his friend Lady Georgiana Morpeth listing his own attempts to fight off the condition. Now we’d call his letter a listicle – 20 things you can do to save yourself from depression. At number 14, he advised her to “Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.”
Other parts of his remedies are less Instagram-friendly, such as “Don’t expect too much from human life – a sorry business at the best.” But his advice on fresh air still stands, and it makes clear an important distinction between “fresh air” and “exercise”, even though the two used to fit closely together. Until quite recently, there was no way to separate the two. But the rise of gym culture has changed things.
The Guardian view on fresh air: a public good | Editorial