By Kate Barrington
There’s something about being outdoors that makes you feel alive. Maybe it’s the fresh air filling up your lungs or the bright sun warming your skin but spending time in nature can transform your attitude and give you a new positive outlook on life.
Spending time outside does more than just lift your spirits, it can actually improve your mental health. Time spent outdoors can have a healing effect on the mind and body, improving your mood, boosting your immune system, and reducing stress. When life starts to get you down, all you need to do is grab a jacket, throw on a pair of hiking boots, and hit the trail.
Here’s what you need to know about how spending time outside can support your mental health.
7 Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Time Outdoors
After a long, cold winter there’s nothing better than being able to spend some time outside. Simply being able to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the sunshine works wonders for your mood, but research suggests spending time outside may benefit your mental and physical health in measurable ways.
Here are 7 ways spending time outside can benefit your mental and physical health:
- Spending time outside can reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. By extension, it may also lower your blood pressure.
- Walking in nature has the potential to improve your short-term memory. Studies show that walking in nature is more beneficial for memory than walking in urban settings.
- After spending time outdoors, you may have less difficulty concentrating – it may even reduce symptoms of ADHD.
- Spending time outdoors may speed healing and shorten the recovery process while reducing the need for painkillers and lowering the risk of complications.
- Natural light can be a strong mood elevator, so spending time outside could improve your mood and help with calming anxiety or reducing symptoms of depression.
- Being outside may help reduce levels of inflammation in the body, especially compared to spending time in the city.
- Spending time outside can have a restorative effect on your mind, boosting mental energy and relieving the effects of mental fatigue.
There is even some evidence to suggest that spending time outside can keep you young. In a study published in the Journal of Aging and Health, research revealed that adults over the age of 70 who spent time outdoors experienced fewer problems with sleep and pain. They enjoyed greater mobility and exhibited an increased ability to perform daily tasks.
Plan a Camping Trip as a Mental Health Retreat
Spending just 15 minutes of your day outside could yield mental and physical health benefits, but if you want to capitalize on those benefits you should consider spending as much time outside as you can. If you don’t have a lot of free time during the week to go outside when it’s still light out, think about using your weekend to plan a mental health retreat. A hiking or camping trip could be just what you need.
Here are some of the benefits of camping for your mental health:
- Spending time in or around greenspace may lower stress levels and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Going camping could help you reset your biological clock, enabling you to fall asleep and wake up earlier than usual – it may also boost your energy levels.
- A camping trip is the perfect excuse to do a digital detox and the time away from technology could improve your state of mind.
- Camping is a great way to increase your activity level and boost your mood. One study showed that active people spend fewer days in a state of poor mental health than inactive people.
- Any time of year, spending time outdoors can help with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – even if it’s cold or overcast.
If you don’t consider yourself an outdoorsy person, you can still enjoy a camping trip or a hiking weekend. You don’t necessarily need to “rough it” in order to enjoy the benefits of being outside. Rather than popping a tent, rent a pop-up camper so you have a bed to sleep in at the end of the day. Plan ahead to bring enough food for the weekend so you don’t have to do much cooking and choose a campsite that has amenities like showers.
Other Ways to Enjoy Time Outdoors
Getting outdoors can work wonders for your mental and physical health but you don’t necessarily need to spend a whole weekend communing with nature to enjoy the benefits. Just 15 minutes of time in the sun could help you relieve stress and improve productivity. Make an effort to include time outdoors in your daily routine, even if it’s something simple like going for a walk during your lunch break.
Here are some simple ways to enjoy time outside:
- If you live close enough to your workplace, consider walking or riding your bike to work a few days a week.
- Start a garden with your family. It doesn’t have to be a major endeavor – simply starting a few pots of herbs on the patio and tending to them a little each day can help.
- Rather than eating in your office, spend your lunch hour outside. Eat lunch at a local park or go for a walk after you’re done eating.
- If you like to work out, consider moving some of your workouts outdoors. Take your yoga mat into the backyard or go for a jog instead of hitting the gym.
- Spend some time improving your yard. Dedicate 15 minutes a day to simple tasks like weeding or watering the garden.
- Schedule an outdoor meetup with friends. Instead of meeting at a bar, host a barbecue in your backyard or choose a restaurant that has an outdoor patio.
It may take a little thought and intentionality on your part but spending more time outdoors can be beneficial for your mental and physical health. In addition to reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, time outside can relieve stress, speed healing, and reduce mental fatigue. The next time you start to feel blue, head outside for a little time in the sun. You’ll feel better in no time.
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