Unexpected Ways That Nature Benefits Mental Health

sunrise on beach

When was the last time you went outdoors to relax, exercise, or just enjoy the surroundings? If you can’t remember, it’s time to do it more often. Your mental health and well-being depend on it.

Australian children spend only 1.2 hours a day playing outdoors and 2.3 hours a day surfing the web or watching TV. Adults spend even less time outdoors, relying on public transport and personal cars. After all, how many of us can afford the luxury of going out for a walk after working for hours?

The current situation doesn’t make things easier. People from all around the world are forced to stay indoors to protect themselves and others. But this won’t last forever. Once the crisis has passed and things return to normal, it’s important to make time to get outdoors.

Even a daily walk can boost your energy, bust stress, and keep your brain sharp. Exposure to outdoor environments has been shown to improve mental health and reduce depression, among other benefits. You’ll feel happier overall, your mood will improve, and your productivity will rise.

mountains

Eager to find out more? Here are some unexpected ways nature may benefit mental health!

Boost Your Vitamin D Intake

Vitamin D is best known for its role in calcium absorption and bone health. What you may not know is that it also supports brain function and may relieve depression symptoms.

This fat-soluble vitamin occurs naturally in certain foods like cod liver oil, salmon, beef liver, tuna, sardines, egg yolks, and trout. Additionally, Vitamin D is produced by your body in the presence of sunlight. Spending more time outdoors can boost vitamin D levels, resulting in stronger bones and improved mental health.

Current evidence indicates that vitamin D regulates certain brain areas influencing behaviour and cognitive function. It also protects your brain from oxidative stress and inflammation. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to higher rates of depression, impaired cognition, mood disorders, and other mental illnesses.

According to Psychology Today, supplemental vitamin D may improve your mood. However, spending time outdoors is much healthier than popping pills. Try to get 10 to 30 minutes of sunlight daily to optimize your vitamin D levels and keep your brain sharp.

Noosa national park

Ward Off Anxiety and Depression

More than two million Australians experience anxiety in a given year. This condition affects one in three women and one in five men at some point in life. Depression, on the other hand, affects approximately one million Aussies.

Anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants may help, but they also carry potential side effects. Before you start taking medication, consider trying natural alternatives, such as walking, jogging, or yoga first. I am a great believer that pharmaceuticals have their place but also work on the philosophy of prevention over prescription where possible.

A 2014 review published in the Frontiers in Psychology states that exposure to natural environments may reduce anxiety and depression symptoms while improving mental health.

According to Harvard Medical School, the visual aspects of nature promote relaxation and ward off negative thoughts. The same goes for nature sounds, which have a soothing effect on the brain.

tree roots

When you’re outside, it’s easier to relax and forget about your daily worries. After all, it’s no coincidence that many people meditate or practice yoga outdoors. There’s no pressure, no traffic, and no rush to get things done; you can just be yourself and let go of the things that hold you back.

Studies conducted over the years have linked the great outdoors to lower stress levels, reduced anxiety, higher job satisfaction, and improved work performance.

For example, a 2017 study indicates that spending just 30 minutes outdoors may lower the risk of depression by 7 per cent and high blood pressure by 9 per cent. Another research paper suggests that a 90-minute walk in a natural setting may reduce the negative thoughts and brain activity associated with depression.

Get Outside to Boost Your Productivity

Have a hard time staying focused? Are you struggling to get things done? In this case, put your shoes on and take a short walk around the house or spend some quiet time in your garden.

The great outdoors has beneficial effects on mental focus, attention, creativity, and work performance. Even gazing at a screenshot depicting natural settings may boost concentration and productivity, says Harvard Business Review. As the researchers note, these so-called “green micro-breaks” may improve work performance and reduce human error.

Another study has found that green outdoor settings may decrease the symptoms of ADHD in children. This mental condition is characterized by poor mental focus, inattention, impulsive behaviour, and more.

Children who engaged in outdoor activities experienced significant improvement in their symptoms compared to when they performed similar activities in other settings.

boy playing in autumn leaves

It doesn’t take much to reap the benefits of nature and green spaces. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, go for a walk during your lunch break. Consider planning an active weekend at the coast or in the countryside. If you have your own garden, plant a tree, take care of your flowers, or relax on your patio before heading to work.

Want a Creativity Boost? Go Out for a Walk!

Nature drives creativity. Just think about all of those beautiful poems, novels, and paintings inspired by the great outdoors. Getting outside not only reduces stress, but it may also help you find the inspiration you need in your creative endeavours.

One study showed that, creativity increased by a staggering 50 per cent in hikers who spent four days out on the trails.

rainforest walk

The environment has a direct impact on human behaviour and thinking patterns. Green spaces and nature, in general, have been shown to engage the brain areas associated with restful introspection, leading to increased creativity. Your problem-solving skills may improve too!

Unlike technology and everyday activities, the time spent outdoors isn’t mentally taxing. Think of it as a way to give your brain a well-deserved break and put your mind at ease so you relax and connect with inner-self.

There are plenty of opportunities to spend more time in nature — it’s enough to take a look around you. Every city has a small park or green areas where you could go to.

So don’t forget, spend more time outdoors: Your mental health depends on it.

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