Getting Outside and Mental Health

When I am feeling down or stressed, stepping outside is my go-to strategy for improving my mood. There is a trail near my house, near redwoods and water, that never fails to break through a bad day. I am not alone in this experience. Enjoying the outdoors and communing with nature is proven to have positive effects on mental health and well-being. A little fresh air and exercise should not be overlooked or underestimated as a component of self-care.

We are currently in the peak of summertime. Instead of hiding in your air-conditioned living room, head outside and bask in the sun (don’t forget your sunscreen!). The outdoors are beckoning, and you will benefit from heeding their call. Here are some direct benefits of spending time outdoors to improve your mental health.

A Healthy Body

Exercise

Spending time outdoors, whether at a park, a zoo, an outdoor mall or even your own backyard, increases the level of exercise you are likely to achieve. It is easy to stay at home and remain still and stagnant, but taking the initiative to get outside and walk, jog, enjoy sports or play with your family increases your activity level significantly.

Of course, you can exercise indoors at the gym, or spend time lazing on the beach, but going outside for exercise still has its benefits. Less time in front of the TV or on the couch means more time being active. Even if your activity is just taking the long walk to the mailbox, gardening, walking the dog or window-shopping downtown, a little outdoor activity is a pleasant break in monotony and will keep your body moving.

Vitamin D

Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight increases the production of Vitamin D, which has an array of disease-fighting qualities and can add to your overall health. Research has revealed that many Americans do not have the recommended ideal amount of Vitamin D in their systems, but this could be alleviated with a little more time spent outside.

UVB light from the sun kicks off the production of Vitamin D, and some research has shown that this can be inhibited by sunscreen. Taking short walks or spending time in the sun can have benefits and increase the production of Vitamin D, but too much time without adequate sun protection can have negative consequences. Take precautions when spending time in direct sunlight, but a few minutes spent soaking in the rays may help you in the long run.

A Healthy Mind

Stress Relief

Stepping out of the house and into nature has an added benefit of relieving some of the stress you may face in your daily life. Research has shown that spending time in nature, even short periods of time, can have lasting effects on stress levels and even alleviate the symptoms of stress on the body and mind. Outdoor time can lower your heart rate, decrease levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, and help you feel more relaxed overall.

Taking an outdoor vacation from the stresses of life, home, and job stress will leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. A little forest therapy or a day at the beach might be the key to lowering your stress levels and leading to a happier, healthier you.

Improved Memory and Concentration

Several studies have shown a connection between spending time in nature and the improvement of clear thinking, memory, and concentration. Outdoor experiences can be a healthy exercise in the management of mental stress, ADHD symptoms, and problems concentrating. Heading outside can increase creativity and clear thinking. Returning from a stroll or a camping trip with a clear, rejuvenated mind holds innumerable benefits.

Improved Moods

Spending time in nature leads to a general positive shift in moods and disposition. Being away from the stress of city life is part of the experience, but the added benefit of being surrounded by nature will likely leave your mood as bright as the summer sun. There are many components of the outdoor experiences that lead to improved mental health. Whether the calming scents of trees and flowers are leaving you relaxed, or the sun has your body working to improve your mood, the outdoors can promote mental health and well-being.

Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Irritability can all be alleviated by exploring the great outdoors. This is especially true when exercise is involved, which is no surprise considering that physical activity and nature are known stress-reducers. Besides easing the effects of environment-related issues such as SAD, the outdoors may have you feeling less stressed, sad and anxious after time spent in nature.

This is not to say that nature is a prescription or a cure for mental health disorders. Symptoms of anxiety, depression and other issues can be alleviated or lessened by time spent in nature. Being outdoors is always beneficial for the body and mind, and nature has wonderful healing capabilities. However, there are many treatment programs that are proven and effective in combating these symptoms as well, and outdoor time is not a cure-all that will replace other forms of treatment and therapy. Discuss your stress and symptoms with a medical professional to determine the best course of action for your personal needs.

Being in nature is just that— natural. However, in recent years, people have been spending increasing amounts of time indoors, at work, or staring at screens. Many people experience stress, anxiety, exhaustion , and many other symptoms that affect everyday functionality. When the solution may be just outside your door, stepping outside to enjoy nature and improve your mental and physical health should be a natural step toward a healthy lifestyle.

Sources

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22840583

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/a-prescription-for-better-health-go-alfresco

 

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