I am a strong advocate for utilizing the outdoors as a tool to help cope with life stressors and mental health issues. Doing anything and everything from having coffee outside to gardening to running, can have a positive impact on your psyche. I originally stumbled upon this amazing tool while in graduate school where I was also working full-time. I would spend my mornings at the gym trying to get in shape and slowly moved out to the trails to improve my running.
During this time, I started noticing an improvement in my mood throughout the days when I hit the trails in the morning. Shortly after taking note of this, I professionally moved into the world of Integrated Behavioral Health which increased my passion for the mind and body connection and learned even more about the positive impact the outdoors has on both.
Research On the Outdoors and Mental Health
Having that connection with nature helps with so many issues like stress, anxiety, depression, and PTSD, which in turn will have a positive impact on your physical health. Besides seeing my own response to the outdoors, there are several studies which have shown a strong correlation between the spending time outside and mental health. Here are just two of the many studies and publications out there.
In one systematic review and meta-analysis, where they evaluate NBI’s (Nature-based interventions) on mental health, they reported the following:
“The most effective interventions were offered for between 8 and 12 weeks, and the optimal dose ranged from 20 to 90 min. NBIs, specifically gardening, green exercise and nature-based therapy, are effective for improving mental health outcomes in adults, including those with pre-existing mental health problems.” (Coventry et all, 2021)
In another study that was published in 2021 on the impact of outdoor walking on mental health, they found light to moderate intensity walking in the outdoors was associated with better overall mental health later in life. This study evaluated three different walking parameters which included frequency, duration and intensity. Then followed up with the participants 12 months later and found a significant association between walking and better overall mental health. (Chen, 2021).
For my military veterans out there, or those who work with veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues, I would encourage you to check out Field Exercises: How Veterans Are Healing Themselves Through Farming and Outdoor Activities by Stephanie Westlund. This writer does a great job of gathering research around the outdoors on mental health with mice, children, women, men and the military. The rest of the book talks about various programs out there that incorporate the outdoors and working with veterans. Now, these are not the only ones out there. If you are a veteran and looking for a program like these, jump on the internet, there are so many more now than when this book was written. However, the book is a good place to start.
Now, heading outdoors is not a “magic pill”. All your mental health issues and stressors will not automatically disappear the moment you step outside. The outdoors is just one piece of the puzzle for better mental health. It is a tool to utilize among others to help increase the chances of success in managing stress and mental health issues. If you are dealing more than just stress, like anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc; please reach out to a license therapist for assistance.
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“Make sure you do at least one thing today that will get you one step closer to one of your goals!” ~Renee Thomas
Chen, S., Stevinson, C., Yang, C., Sun, W., Chen, L., & Ku, P. (2021, August). Cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of outdoor walking with overall mental health in later life. Experimental Gerontology, [s. l.], v. 151, 2021. DOI 10.1016/j.exger.2021.
Coventry, P., Brown, J., Pervin, J., Brabyn, S., Pateman, R., Breedvelt, J., Gilbody, S., Stancliffe, R., McEachan, R. & White, P. (2021, December 16). Nature-based outdoor activities for mental and physical health: Systematic review and meta-analysis. SSM Population Health. v. 16, 2021. DOI 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100934.