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Mental Health Benefits of Getting Outdoors

May 4, 2020
by Kaylyn Geiger

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 19.1% of Americans reported having a mental illness in the past year – that’s 1 in 5. Those affected by mental illness can find everyday tasks challenging, and many times, turn to self medicating with drugs or alcohol. Self medicating can easily lead to substance abuse issues on top of mental health issues. While therapy, medication, and treatment are beneficial for those experiencing severe symptoms, simply getting outdoors has been proven to help maintain positive mental and physical health, with little to no cost or side effects. 

How does getting outdoors help? 

Combats against anxiety and depression

Getting outdoors is a great way to relax the mind. Proceedings from The National Academy of Sciences Studies (PNAS) have found that simply going for a walk can help encourage new thought patterns and decrease rumination by decreasing activity to the prefrontal cortex. In many people who experience anxiety and depression, this part of the brain malfunctions, allowing a repetitive loop of negative thoughts to take over.  

Reduces stress

When stressed, our body reduces a hormone called cortisol, being outdoors has been proven to reduce cortisol levels. Living in a state of fight or flight can have major health implications, both mentally and physically.  PNAS has found that even viewing natural scenery or listening to natural sounds can aid in stress reduction. So get yourself that window seat. 

Elevates mood

These go hand in hand. Less stress and anxiety = elevated mood. Nature is therapeutic, it clears the mind. Breathing fresh air raises the oxygen levels in your brain leading to boosted levels of serotonin – the neurotransmitter correlated with positive emotions. Many refer to this calming effect as a “runner’s high”.

Increases focus and creativity

When you’re feeling foggy take a break, outdoors. Our brains need downtime in order to welcome new space to think and create. Even just a quick refresher helps the brain shift gears. Fresh air gives us a boost of energy and walking promotes creative thinking. A Stanford study showed that walking for just 5 minutes improved creative output by 60%.  

How much time outdoors is beneficial?

The effects of nature have proven to have positive effects on our mental health but how much time is necessary to reap the benefits? Based on a scientific report, experts are suggesting 120 minutes a week. 

Getting outdoors helps you stay physically healthy as well 

It’s a great way to exercise – Instead of being stuck in the gym, go for a calming nature walk, a bike ride, or play a game of beach volleyball with friends. There are outdoor activities for all levels of physical fitness so take it at your own pace.  

Helps the body produce Vitamin D – Get some sun – but not too much of course. Being exposed to direct sunlight helps your body produce Vitamin D which helps maintain a healthy heart, strong bones, and proper immune function.  

So get outside, breathe the fresh air and you’ll feel better all around! 

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health and would benefit from professional treatment services, Sandstone Care can help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our admissions team.

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