Boost Your Mental Wellness With Outdoors Nature Activities

This guest post is by David Csonka, of Naturally Engineered.

Ask people if they’d like to be able to spend more time outdoors in parks or natural areas, and most would say “yes.” Sadly, all too often what we want to do and what actually happens doesn’t always line up. As the urban landscape expands more every year, many people face dwindling opportunities to enjoy being outdoors, especially in green areas like parks and forests.

This is a shame because it has been recently discovered that outdoor exercise has an immediate and remarkably positive effect on mental functioning including factors like mood, self esteem, and stress levels. Further, a positive nature experience amplifies the beneficial effects of exercise, much more so if near a body of water. That short jog around the pond at the local park might be even more healthful than you thought!

You get a substantial benefit from the first five minutes.

With the economy in what seems to be perpetual turmoil, the burdens of financial trouble, and long working hours have driven personal stress levels to all-time highs. This makes it more important than ever for people to get outdoors as much as they can and participate in some kind of physical activity. Whether it is gardening, or sports, or just a walk around the neighborhood dog park, the key is to get out of the house and move around. Some will say that they don’t have time to play outdoors. Free time is certainly a precious commodity, but it is encouraging to know that being outdoors for as little as five minutes can produce a beneficial effect.

Pick an outdoor activity that you enjoy, and just get out of the house.

You don’t have to hike the Appalachian Trail to reap these benefits. Nor are the benefits from outdoor activity just for busy adults trying to make it in the working world. Young children and adolescents have just as much to gain from exposure to natural areas in terms of their cognitive functioning and development. With an increasing emphasis on child safety and parents’ tendency to keep children close to home, they are less likely to spend time roaming around in the woods or parks near their neighborhood.

This is unfortunate because the early years of childhood are incredibly influential on a young persons long-term development, not just for brain development but also in habits and behavior. It was determined that children who live in a home with more natural elements tend to have a greater ability to stay attentive and moderate hyperactivity. This is incredibly significant when we live in a time where more and more children are being diagnosed with AD/HD every day.

Children need to play and explore their world.

A child that develops a fondness for the outdoors at an early age will acquire the developmental benefits of this type of activity, and will also likely choose this type of recreation later in life. Not only will they benefit from the demonstrated effects on their mood and wellness, but they will probably instill those habits in children that they have as well. By taking a few steps and prioritizing the time we have each day to allow outdoor activities, it is possible to change the cycle of our behavior and create long term positive change for our families.

One of my favorite activities to do each weekend is to go to the park near my house and hike on some its ten miles of wooded trails. This is not a particularly strenuous exercise, but after an hour of walking through the forest my body is curiously left feeling both energized and relaxed at the same time. The real pleasure however is that which I feel internally in my mind and spirit.

The solemn quiet of the woods brings a perceptible feeling of peace upon me. I believe I can almost feel my blood pressure and pulse rate dropping while I sit on a fallen tree, listening to song birds. None of the stress triggers like emails or phone calls are there to get me riled up, so what is left is a quiet void – filled in by the art and music of nature.

To me, this is a form of meditation, an activity that has been demonstrated to improve a person’s psychological well-being. The resulting stress reduction affects telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells and for humans in general.

Leave the office behind: it will be waiting there for you when you return.

Engaging in this type of activity is simple. It doesn’t require a special five part DVD training program, fancy workout clothes, or a personal trainer. You just need to disconnect for a little while from the world of emails and machines, and reconnect with the natural world that so many people have forgotten is out there.

So, I’ll leave you with a challenge. On at least one day during this coming week, find thirty minutes from your day and go somewhere outside. Try to find a place that is quiet, maybe with a pond, or flowers and birds. Turn off the smart phone and try to forget about everything that waits for you at the office. Trust me, it will be there when you return. But perhaps, when you do return, you will bring a sense of peace and wellness back with you.

How often do you get out to enjoy the natural world around you?

David writes about evolutionary health, fitness, and nutrition at Naturally Engineered. His goal is to help people to reach their full potential through meeting their bodies’ natural expectations. Connect with him at Twitter @thrivenaturally.

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Comments

  1. fran melmed says:

    time to strap on my shoes and head out for a walk. in keeping with your topic, you might enjoy this article on how the national parks services and physicians are getting involved in prescribing outdoor activities: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/health/30brody.html?_r=1&ref=jane_e_brody

    f

  2. Ah – trails, neighborhoods, playgrounds, lakes…. walks, wogs, rides, random nonsense… it is all soul medicine ;-)

  3. David Csonka says:

    Fran, that’s a great article you linked to at the NY Times. A wealth of information there…

  4. Lisa Byrne says:

    David,
    It was a pleasure to read your article and be refreshed in a new way! For me, this is what we always are about telling our clients and to be able to read someone else’s article for me is such a wonderful reinforcement.

    The one phrase that I repeat to everyone that comes to our movement studio is this:

    Unplug. Disconnect. Open the Door, and Get Out!

    Thank you for your fresh words:)

    Best,
    Lisa

  5. Samuel says:

    Awesome post. Yeah, we can boost our mental wellness by taking a walk down the street, swimming and play outdoor games. Thanks a lot. Have fun.

  6. David Csonka says:

    You know what? I’m going to grab the lunch box I brought with me to work and go eat my lunch outside today. It’s beautiful out – the sun is shining, there is a nice cool winter breeze, a perfect day. I can at least pretend I’m not at work for a little while. :D

  7. Greg says:

    Hey David, great post! I definitely agree with you on all points.

    In response to your exit question, I typically get out and mountain bike in the forest between 3-5 days per week for a couple hours each time, and usually I get out to do one other activity at least once a week (running, hiking, rock climbing etc.) My regular mountain bike rides are such a stress reliever… my wife can tell when it’s been too long since my last one!

  8. Sean says:

    What a great article.

    Nature is our best teacher, its what brings us back into balance.

    We’re designed to enjoy nature.

  9. Andrew says:

    I think it’s officially been a year since I cancelled my gym membership. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach for everyone, I’ve spent most of the last year getting my exercise in the water, on the beach, and in the forest. I even notice a huge difference in my mental state between mountain biking and road biking. Getting away from the pavement and the traffic makes all the difference.

  10. Living in the desert, I most definitely miss the greener things in life. However, a trip to the mountains nearby for a hike is something I wish we did more often. Perhaps a day trip is in order.

  11. Gene says:

    Great article, Dave. You have a natural talent to write and express your thoughts in a way that affects everyone that reads your articles. You have a rare talent to see and write about what others could only wish to see or understand. It makes all of us including me, want to understand how to better survive in the world around us and make it a better place for all of us to live.

  12. diane says:

    I live in NY and recently had to demolish a backyard shed and the only thing of somewhat value in there was a newly-bought, then neglected bicycle. I brought it into the local bike shop and had it ‘detailed’ for about $100. Bought a snazzy odometer/timer/speedometer and had them install it. This was 3 months ago. I get out every day now for at least 20 minutes, just to pedal around the local streets. I am shocked almost at the improvement in my mental attitude. I can feel a real boost in energy, better mood, clearer thinking. It seems to be from being outdoors, exercising, and breathing deeply, consciously.

  13. This is the reason that I started walking my kids to and from school everyday… It does help!

    Thanks,

    Brian M Connole
    HCG Diet 411 Blog

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