Mental health in the great outdoors

“Go outside and get some fresh air!” How often have you heard these words over the years? Whether in admonishment, suggestion, or excitement the truth of this statement resonates. We all know the outdoors offers exercise, relaxation, and often a sense of elation. While the physical benefits are self-evident, the mental health and psychological positive effects can be more subtle yet just as impactful.

Addressing the mental health impacts of the pandemic

As we start to emerge from a 2-year pandemic-imposed hiatus from normal life, we find that the unexpected consequences of the lifestyle changes have been substantial. Inactive behavior and unhealthy snacking have increased substantially. A survey found that during the first year of the pandemic, 42% of surveyed Americans reported unintended weight gain, by an average of 28-41 lbs. 67% of people (48% of parents) reported that the level of their stress had increased since prior to the pandemic. The fears and uncertainty instilled by the health and economic ramifications of the pandemic have increased insomnia, anxiety, and depression. 

42% reported unintended weight gain during the pandemic.

67% reported increased stress levels during the pandemic.

At the same time, we have also observed 49% greater work schedule flexibility as working from home has become the new normal. These concurrent conditions lead to what may have a simple solution: get outside!


Mental health benefits of going outside

There is growing evidence to support what all of our parents innately knew to be true: exposure to natural environments has mental health benefits. Greenspace proximity has been associated with lower stress levels, and spending time outside has been shown to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The American Psychological Association has reported that spending time in nature has been linked to improvements in moods, mental health, and emotional well-being. Research of 2000 employees and 1000 managers reported that just 29 minutes spent outdoors resulted in 45% increase in productivity at work, and 64% of employees felt much better “in themselves” after getting some fresh air.

29 minutes spent outdoors resulted in 45% increase in productivity at work.

A Japanese study found that Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere) for just a short period outdoors can reduce cortisol levels, a natural chemical produced by the body that is released in times of stress.

Starting this year, doctors in Canada can even prescribe national park passes to patients!

Added benefits of exercise

While you are outside, get some exercise. Things are more exciting when you explore local neighborhoods, parks, trails, or get off the trail for some adventure. Exercise helps reduce blood pressure and induces the release of endorphins – which elevate your mood. If you have an indoor exercise routine, consider taking it outside. You will see the difference a little wind resistance adds to your workout and how some fresh adds to your mental and physical rejuvenation.  

What are you waiting for?

Mental health and the struggle for wellness has been a recent topic of much discussion for children forced out of their school routines, parents struggling with work-home balance, and everyone else dealing with unprecedented stressors. The quest for balance and wellness is not just a struggle for us mere mortals, but also evident during the recent Olympics and Pro Tour athletes. In a recent documentary, Michael Phelps says, “I don’t think anyone jumped in to ask us if we\’re ok. As long as we were performing, I don’t think anything else matters.”

Well, everything else does matter. Get outside and get some fresh air. Take a break from your regular routine. Use some of that time saved up from your commute and put it to use outdoors. Recognize that we are all living in a world of increased stress, whether it is physical, economic, or psychosocial — it can all contribute to feeling unwell. Getting outside will make your work, play, and life that much more balanced, not to mention more fun. Let GOES help you enjoy the outdoors safely.


Stay safe,

Dr. Grant

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