* Benefits of the Great Outdoors on Mental Health

By Donna Wolter, LCSW, May 29, 2018 –

Warmer weather is here again, so that means we will be enjoying the great outdoors! What a long winter it has been!

Research continuously shows that being outside can improve our mental, physical and spiritual well-being.  Several research studies I’ve read recently validate that being outdoors or even looking at pictures of nature positively changes the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Stanford researchers concluded in a study that walking in nature could lower the risk of depression. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that people who spent ninety minutes in a natural environment showed less activity in the area of the brain that is associated with depression compared to people who walked in an urban setting.

An article published in Business Insider by Lauren Friedman and Kevin Loria listed 11 scientific reasons you should spend more time outside:

  1. Improved short-term memory. A study with University of Michigan students found that the group that took a walk around an arboretum scored 20 percent better the second time they took a test compared to the other group that retook the test after walking around in a city.
  2. Restored mental energy. One study found that people who looked at pictures of nature vs. city scenes experienced a boost in mental energy.
  3. Stress relief. One study found that students who spent two nights in the forest had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone often used as a marker for stress) than those who spent time in the city.
  4. Reduced inflammation. Inflammation in the body can be associated with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and cancer. A study showed that students who spent time in the woods had lower levels of inflammation than those in the city.
  5. Better vision. In children, research found that outdoor activity may reduce the risk of developing nearsightedness.
  6. Improved concentration. In one study, researchers discovered that the participants who took a walk in nature vs. those who took a walk in the city or those that just relaxed, the nature walkers scored the best on a proofreading task.
  7. Sharper thinking and creativity. College students who took a walk in nature were much more accurate repeating a sequence of numbers back to the researchers after their walk.
  8. Possible anti-cancer effects. Early studies have suggested that spending time in forests may encourage the production of anti-cancer proteins.
  9. Immune system boost. The cellular activity that is connected with a forest’s possible anti-cancer effects is also an indication of a general boost to the immune system, which we need to fight off less serious illnesses like colds and flu.
  10. Improved mental health. When you spend time outdoors and combine it with exercise, studies show that anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can be reduced. Water made the benefits even better.
  11. Reduced risk of early death. Many studies have shown a strong correlation between a person’s access to nature and living longer, healthier lives.

Let’s get off the couch, get outside and reap all the wonderful benefits of the great outdoors!