The Great Outdoors Is Great for Mental Health
Getting outside does more than expose us to the sights, sounds, smells and textures of mother nature. It’s more than walks in the park or quick games of flag football. More than wind in your hair and sun on your skin. Outdoor time has actually been shown to boost mental health – and even overall health.
Unfortunately, we humans typically spend our days and nights indoors, staring at phone, television or computer screens for most of our waking hours. We may also seek and find physical comfort in our unnatural indoor habitats, but this protection comes at a cost to our mind health and ultimately our physical health.
The outdoors can boost brain health
A number of studies have shown that spending time outdoors can boost mental health for children and adults alike. With enough exposure to green spaces, children exhibit better self-control and adults report an improved ability to focus, as examples of improved brain health. Time in nature is also linked to better mood, lower stress, greater empathy and even lower incidence of psychiatric disorders. Even brain scans taken of a small patient sample reveal that outdoor time was the most significant factor in brain changes to the region of the brain responsible for attention. Plus, the more time people spend outdoors, the more benefits they realize; however, even brief time outdoors was proven beneficial.
While the reasons for this link are not yet understood, researchers have several theories. Some believe that we are naturally drawn to the outdoors due to our ancestry, while others propose that green spaces trigger physiological responses. Still others think the benefits are the result of nature’s ability to bring us into encounters with the unexpected and engage our senses in unique ways, like an awakening.
The outdoors can promote improved health overall
We’ve shared before that mental health and physical health are closely linked. In that way, boosting brain health by committing to time outside can also boost physical health, helping to reduce your risks for a variety of aches and pains, sleep issues, weight gain and even chronic conditions. Additionally, time outside more often gets us moving when compared to the time we spend indoors. This extra exercise can help us better maintain or lose weight to improve a variety of health issues.
Plus, exercise and brain health are also closely linked, since exercise helps release hormones called endorphins that relieve stress and boost mental health.
Spending time outdoors is for everyone
There are many ways to spend time outside and many outdoor activities to enjoy, no matter where you live. If you have easy access to wide open spaces, you can take up outdoor hobbies ranging from birdwatching to hiking. In the city, you can head to the park for a short walk or simply enjoy a meal at a park-side café to enjoy the views.
If you simply cannot get outside, watching a video of nature can even offer some brain health benefits. Even listening to “white noise” that includes nature sound effects can be beneficial, according to studies. Apps, smart assistants and white noise machines are solutions that allow us to easily incorporate these natural sounds into our indoor time.
The key is to intentionally connect with nature, rather than to simply be outside. That means directing your attention to the sights, sounds, smells, textures and other unique and wonderful experiences of nature.