How Can Outdoor Activities Boost Your Mental Health? | Guest Post by Jane Sandwood

Around 144.4 million Americans take part in outdoor activities at least once a year, going on around 11 billion outings – as per the Outdoor Participation Report. Some of the most popular activities chosen by enthusiasts include jogging and trailing, and although the biggest motivator for heading outside is fitness, other reasons – including relaxation, the chance to get up close to nature, and the ability to partake in unstructured sport and play outside – are also notable. If you have always loved heading out to forests, mountain trails, or lakeside areas, know that you are benefitting in countless ways. Being outdoors can benefit your physical health, but also keep you more resilient mentally and help stave off conditions like depression and anxiety.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

In order to establish a meaningful relationship with nature, it is important to find an activity that fulfills and motivates you. Research shows that some of the most popular activities by participation rate include running and trail running, fishing, road and mountain biking, hiking, and camping. Fishing enthusiasts, for instance, took an average of 14 outings throughout the year. Activities like fishing reduce anxiety by encouraging people to head out into serene settings in which they are surrounded by trees and water – both of which have extremely calming effects. Even those who decide not to fish but simply decide to bring a boat out into the water, can enjoy benefits such as lower blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, and a heightened ability to focus.

Outdoor Activities Boost Mental Well-being

A study by University of Michigan researchers (involving veterans) found that those who took part in outdoor group recreation activities showed signs of improved mental health. These effects lasted in the long-term, and even a week after taking part in activities like camping and hiking, participants reported over 10% improvement in various measures of psychological wellbeing – including positivity and social functioning. Participants mentioned that the outdoors helped them re-evaluate what was important in life, helped them disconnect from devices, and helped them to “remember who they were.”

Just A Few Minutes Do the Trick

Even if you have just a few minutes per day to disconnect, doing so has a powerful impact on your mental health. One study by Cornell University researchers, for instance, showed that just 10 minutes in nature significantly reduces the effects of physical and mental stress. Another study undertaken at the University of Sussex showed that the sounds of nature affect bodily systems that control the stress response in a positive way, promoting resting activity in the brain.

Getting Fitter

Working outdoors enables you to burn between three and seven per cent more calories than when you run on a treadmill. This is owing to stronger wind resistance, the presence of arbitrary changes in height of terrain, and the many obstacles nature places in your way. Outdoor workouts have also been found to be more motivating, meaning that you are more likely to stick to a routine that involves some time outside.

If you love being in the Great Outdoors, it may have something to do with the many benefits that Nature can bring. Being in green or blue areas has been found in study after study to lower stress hormone levels, enhance focus, and improve the mood. Outdoor activities also enable you to burn more calories, since wind resistance and uneven terrains can add obstacles you don’t normally encounter in a gym. Even if you don’t have time to participate in outdoor sports regularly, aim to take part in short yoga or meditation sessions in a green area every day. With studies showing that just 10 minutes outdoors can make a big difference, it seems like a small but sound investment in your mental health.