TrustCare | The Benefits of Outdoor Activities on Mental Health

The Benefits of Outdoor Activities on Mental Health

in Wellness Checks

Say goodbye to stress and hello to nature.

Physical activity can improve your mental health, but research says it’s even better when you’re outside. The connection between outdoor activities and mental health is strong, with proven potential to lower stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

Many of us spend our days in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer, smartphone, television, or tablet. As a result, we spend far less time outside experiencing the calm and peacefulness that nature can provide.

Incorporating outdoor activities into your daily routine is an excellent way to enjoy the therapeutic benefits that nature often has on your mental health.

Go Green for a Boost of Happiness

Vibrant trees. Flowers in bloom. Clear skies. What’s not to love?

Spending time outdoors can give you a natural boost of happiness and improve your mood, especially when you’re surrounded by the color green.

Green has a calming effect that activates your parasympathetic nervous system (which encourages your body to relax). At the same time, green tones down your sympathetic nervous system (which increases blood pressure and heart rate and also controls your “fight or flight” response).

One study shows that being in nature can regulate your sympathetic nervous system in as little as five minutes – making it a worthwhile endeavor.

Movement Adds More Benefits

Have you ever heard of a “runner’s high” or similar phenomenon? When you add movement (such as hiking or walking) to your nature experience, your body releases endorphins – the feel-good transmitters in your brain that reduce pain and increase pleasure.

Physical activity also increases your sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine, two hormones that help ease feelings of depression. After finishing a brisk walk or challenging hike, don’t be surprised if you feel more energetic and optimistic than when you started

Nature Can Help You Cope

In addition to lowering stress, research indicates that spending time in nature can be an effective coping strategy for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nature-based therapy programs continue to grow in popularity as a treatment option for chronic conditions like these.

Even without a mental health condition, being in nature can help you manage challenging emotions – such as loneliness, irritability, or anger – and improve the quality of your sleep.

Better Sleep Means Better Mental Health

There’s a reason why people say someone in a bad mood “woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” Sleep is very closely linked to mental health.

Sufficient sleep, especially rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, allows your brain to fully process thoughts, memories, and other emotional information. If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain struggles to evaluate and remember positive emotional content – leaving you more susceptible to mood disorders and other mental health conditions.

Do you struggle to fall or stay asleep? Spending time outdoors could be hugely beneficial. Sun exposure is the most natural way to get vitamin D, which helps control your sleep/wake cycle. By being in sunlight every day, you can improve your ability to sleep well at night.

Being outside and exercising also raises your internal body temperature. As your temperature begins to go back down, it can gently lull you into sleep.

There Are Many Ways to Enjoy Nature

If hiking isn’t your thing, or you don’t have easy access to nature where you live, there are many things you can do to get the same great benefits:

  • Take a bicycle ride around your neighborhood

  • Grab your favorite book and find a shady tree to read under

  • Plant a garden in your yard or grow your own indoor plants

  • Meet up with a friend for daily or weekly walks

  • Plan an outdoor picnic

  • Practice yoga in a nearby park or green space

  • Engage in outdoor sports and activities

  • Check out community fitness events in your area

  • Enjoy lunch at an outdoor table

Spend most of your days indoors? Although it can’t fully replace outdoor green space, you can still engage your senses by decorating with pictures of natural beauty, or listening to recorded nature sounds instead of music.

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