The Mental Health Benefits of Outdoor Activities


Numerous studies show that going outside provides all sorts of health benefits: for example, being around trees and sunlight boosts your immunity, and being outside also helps you fall asleep faster at night.

And just walking or even sitting in green places confers multiple benefits – far more than watching video images of vegetation! Below is just a brief list:

Boosts Serotonin Levels

Fresh air is energising, providing a natural stimulation of the brain in part through the senses and by boosting your levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that seems to induce feelings of contentment. This same principle underlies how SSRI-type antidepressants such as Lexapro and Prozac have such a large impact on depression: SSRI molecules make more serotonin available for use in your brain.

There’s no taking that away; going for a walk in the park or playing Ultimate Frisbee with friends still conveys large benefits. For example, patients who exercise outdoors after surgery are sick fewer days and have less serious problems than those who exercise indoors. Regular outdoor exercise over time is associated with lower risk of depression.

Most of the research on the role of nature for mental health focuses on green space, with parks and forests being the gold standard. However, researchers are now also looking at blue spaces, for example, rivers and oceans. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a range of different experiences in nature can be beneficial for mental wellbeing, from walking barefoot on grass to watching photos and videos or simply tuning into the sounds of nature.

Lowers Cortisol Levels

Researchers have found that being outside in nature helps to lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Those living near more green space showed greater reductions over time in their day-to-day levels of physiological stress, as assessed by a daily profile of secretion detected in samples of saliva.

After all, even when you are outside, your parasympathetic nervous system — the one that slows your heart rate and relaxes you — is probably kicking in, allowing for the hormonal zoneout that leaves you calmer. And, much like exercise, nature is understood to enhance a good mood while decreasing stress.

Other kinds of outdoor exercise such as riding, walking and hiking have the benefit of social engineering as you meet others who are interested in your activity, too. In general, activities with a good social aspect enhance your chances of doing those exercises in the longer term and with more success.

Reduces Stress

Few realise the impact of a walk in the forest, or even a bike ride or camping trip to alleviate depression and anxiety. After spending time outdoors, you’ll experience an increase in happiness and well-being, a boost to creativity and focus. And you’ll benefit from a healthy dose of vitamin D.

Being outside means lowering levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and and increasing levels of serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter). This means that people overall can relax more deeply, achieving better sleep and lower levels of stress day-to-day.

Different studies have also shown that living close to parks and natural areas contributes more to positive wellbeing than when we do not live close to them. Just taking a look at photos or watching videos of green spaces (photos or videos) can help us improve our concentration and our positive mood, so just take a break during the day and go visit the one closest to you!You will feel better for the long-term and in the short run! Their effect will be quicker and stronger than taking short walks!It will also be stronger if you spend longer periods of time outdoors than just taking short walks.

Increases Focus

In a time of screens and ever-present clamour, it gets diluted easily. Hike in a mountain or kayak on a lake and you begin to feel returning clarity; alfresco, focused attention recovers some of its vigour through the oxygen of fresh air, the sounds of birdsong and the Vitamin D shots.

Studies have confirmed that walking through a park or forest lowers blood pressure and decreases stress, one research paper found that those living with posttraumatic stress disorder showed more psychological recovery when spending time outdoors.

If your feeling overwhelmed and unable to concentrate, perhaps you should take your kids for a hike, or even just play in the backyard. Besides improving mood and self-esteem, time in nature like this might also enhance eudaimonic well-being, meaning that feeling of personal growth, engaged relationships, and a sense of purpose – even a wordless view of nature can produce these effects.

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