Thoughts on staying active, mental well-being, and the power of community

Nature on my mind

Like many who live in Scotland, I’ve developed a distinct appreciation for its verdant countryside and stunning scenery. From Bass Rock along the John Muir way in East Lothian, to snow-capped Munros in the Cairngorms, to lochside paddling in the Trossachs or cycling through the rolling hills of the Borders, I’ve found solace in staying active while in nature since moving here in early 2021.

No matter the week, I’m always in a better mood on top of a Munro or eating lunch in the Pentlands. Whether solo or with friends, being active in the outdoors (and with a view) has been one of the best things I’ve been able to do for my own mental health and wellbeing.

As someone who moved to a new country in their mid-twenties, I’ve found that being active outdoors is also one of the best ways to meet new friends. I’ve directly benefitted from the outstanding active communities of runners, hikers, and cyclists in Scotland. From long bike rides or Munro hikes with friends on weekends, to weekly workouts with a local running club, I’ve found many ways to keep my body moving and mind at ease. Even through work, I’ve gone kayaking on Loch Lomond, completed my first 100-mile (“century”) cycle, and my first half marathon (the Great Scottish Half in Glasgow, earlier this month). In the latter two instances, we were also able to raise funds for a local mental health charity, the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

Climbing for a cause

Moving to Scotland in early 2021, I wanted to find a way to support my new local community while also engaging in something active with others (once lockdown restrictions had begun to sufficiently ease). For personal reasons, I knew I wanted to support an organisation like SAMH. I found such an opportunity through a group at Capco.

Every year, a group within Capco Scotland comes together to accomplish a feat of endurance while raising funds for SAMH. This year – in late August – 13 of us successfully summitted Ben Nevis together! The brutal combination of rain and wind on the ascent made it tough going, even for experienced “Munro-baggers”; the camaraderie and dedication of the group meant we were able to safely summit and enjoy a much sunnier descent into Glen Nevis that afternoon.

Not only did our broader community of friends and colleagues manage to raise one pound for every meter of the ascent (1,345m), we also forged memorable connections and shared great experiences while removed from the bustle and stress of everyday life. I was thrilled to help organize the event this year, especially because it supported the brilliant work SAMH do for the mental health of all Scots. Even as the days get shorter and the nights longer, I look forward to more days on the trail in the months ahead, with friends old and new!

The mountains (and trails, and cycle paths) are calling

If you, like me, find solace and enjoyment by escaping into nature, you’re not alone! According to the last NatureScot survey in 2018, 56 percent of over 1100 respondents engaged in outdoor activities at least once a week, and over 90 percent of those who did so claimed it helped them to “destress, relax, and unwind”. A more recent survey (undertaken two years ago to analyse the early impact of COVID-19 on outdoor activity) found that up to 70 percent of Scots engaged in weekly outdoor activities – those are some busy parks and trails!

If you are looking to support your mental wellbeing and get outside more often yourself (and aren’t sure where to begin) there are a number of organisations across Scotland that would be more than happy to help. From local hillwalking or running groups, to weekend-long trainings offered by Mountaineering Scotland, to cycling meet-ups in Edinburgh or Glasgow, there’s something for all interests and ability levels. I hope to see you out on a trail, road, or path sometime soon!