How Spending Time Outside Can Improve Your Mental Health
Why it helps and how to do it.
Posted October 1, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
A lot of people can attest to the healing that being out in nature can provide. Japanese culture coined the term “forest bathing,” which includes spending time in nature to get a break from the day-to-day hustle. They have long observed the psychological benefits this exercise had. Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, went on a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike while grieving the loss of her mother. Many millennials have left a traditional lifestyle to travel in a camper van to experience natural wonders. Our national parks have been at capacity from visitors throughout the pandemic. There are a lot of examples of people seeking nature for the benefits it has.
Here are some reasons spending time in nature can improve physical and mental health:
- Exercise. A lot of activities in nature at minimum involve walking in order to get there, which boosts serotonin, lowers blood pressure, strengthens your heart, and keeps you fit.
- It can boost your energy
- Fresh air (free aromatherapy)
- A break from screen time, which is good for your eyes
- Scenery. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty things?
- Quietness and the sounds of nature.
- Getting Vitamin D, an essential vitamin the lack of which can sometimes lead to depression
- It can lower your adrenaline from stress build-up
How much time do we need to be outdoors to get the benefits? You may see many benefits from increments of just 15 minutes. Taking time for extended vacations and trips during the year are special occasions, but we can incorporate time outside daily.
Here are some ideas of things to do outside regularly:
- Go for a walk in your neighborhood
- Visit a local park
- Go to the beach, lake, or river
- Ride your bike or skate
- Do some yard work
- Take your pet outside
- Sit outside and listen to music
- Eat out on a restaurant’s patio
- Have a picnic with a friend
- Park your car farther away in a parking lot
- Play an outdoor game or sport with your children
- Enjoy your coffee or tea on your porch in the morning
- Go camping
- Take a hike
- Go kayaking or canoeing
- Go out on a boat
- Join a sports league
- Go to a farmers' market
A great way to incorporate more time outside is just to set a goal or intention for the day or week. If you feel short on time, just turn something you already do into an outdoor experience. Also, note if you are the type of person who doesn’t feel as comfortable in nature. That is perfectly fine; getting some sunlight however possible can still have added health benefits, though, and exercise can always be done indoors. Try to do some new things outdoors that feel comfortable for you and see how you feel.