It seems like a no-brainer that spending time outside in the fresh air while doing physical activities is good for us. Thankfully, there are many research findings which indicate that spending time in nature, especially while exercising, has many mental health benefits. From a boost in self-esteem and attention span to decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, it is clear that time with mother nature can promote over-all wellness. Still want to spend your days indoors watching reruns on Netflix? Well, here are some scientific studies that might change your mind.
We all know physical activity has many benefits for your mind and your body but does where you exercise matter? A study produced by the Mind organization for the University of Essex, found that outdoor activity has much stronger mental health benefits as opposed to indoor activity. To test this, participants walked for 90 minutes in a green outdoor area then they walked for the same amount of time in an indoor shopping center. After the nature walk, 90% of the participants noted an increase in self-esteem as opposed to 46% increase from the shopping center walk. Also the outdoor walk significantly lowered feelings of depression, anger and tension. The shopping center walk did generate some positive effects but many of the participants felt depression, anger and tension either stay at the same level or get worse during the course of their walk.
Outdoor activity doesn’t just benefit ordinary people, it can even help veterans adjust to life at home after leaving the military. The Sierra Club organized several outdoor events lasting 4 to 7 days for veterans with activities that included backpacking, white water rafting, fly fishing and canoeing. The majority of participants (70%) reported being in treatment for one or more mental health concerns. The veterans were asked about their stress levels, attention and mood before and after the outdoor activities. The results showed that while stress levels only lowered a small amount, there was significant increase in attention as well as in positive emotions such as feelings of peace and tranquility.
These results aren’t limited to these two studies, the positive impact natural settings have on mental health have been studied widely. A multi-study analysis showed that exposure to any green space even for a short amount of time still produced positive effects to participants’ mental health especially if the green space included water. After being exposed to green space, both men and women reported having greater self-esteem and many participants, mostly men, reported a positive change in mood. The study also finds that people living with mental illness benefited the most from exposure to natural spaces.
Spending time outdoors also has positive effect on children with ADD/ADHD. A study published in Applied Psychology tested the hyperactivity and inattention in children with ADD/ADHD in different play environments. The results indicated that playtime in an open green space was followed by milder ADD/ADHD symptoms. The positive results were seen in children of both genders regardless of socioeconomic background.
Don’t have time to spend outdoors everyday? Well you are in luck. Even pictures of natural settings can help reduce mental stress. Researchers from Deakin University found that images of nature shown before a mentally stressful situation would generate more activity in the participants’ parasympathetic nervous system (the system that is responsible for rest) while participants who were shown an image of a urban or built-up area who would had more activity in their sympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for fight or flight). This implies that images of nature can help you stay more relaxed when faced with stress.
Now set down that iphone and turn off the T.V. and spend some time with nature!
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