How Nature Benefits Mental Health by Christina Fletcher, MA(C), RP(Q)
As we begin to emerge from a long and arduous winter, one thing that seems evident is that warmer temperatures and fresh air have a positive impact on our mood. For many of us in Canada, freezing temperatures and a lack of daylight hours make the idea of going outside during the winter months less appealing. But it is clear by the full restaurant patios, bustling garden centres, and busy sidewalks that we are more than ready to pack away the snow shovels and clunky boots, get into nature and soak up some sunshine.
There is a growing body of research that suggests that exposure to nature has positive impacts on our mental health. Studies suggest that getting into nature can help with improvements in affect, cognition, restoration, and well-being, and can even lead to decreased anxiety and depression. Here are five reasons to get out and enjoy nature.
- Reduce your stress: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress and anxiety.
- Improved mood: Being in nature has been linked to increased endorphin levels and dopamine production which has a positive impact on mood.
- Increased cognitive function: spending time in nature boost cognitive function, including memory, creativity, and attention.
- Increased physical activity: physical activity such as walking, hiking, or biking can have numerous benefits for mental health including reduced anxiety, a boost in self-esteem, and overall improvement in health outcomes.
- Better sleep: exposure to natural sunlight can help reset our circadian rhythm, which can lead to a better night’s sleep.
So as the weather continues to get better, try incorporating some time in nature into your daily wellness routine. Enjoy the great outdoors and the numerous benefits to your mental health.
Hunter, M. R., Gillespie, B. W., & Chen, S. Y. (2019). Urban nature experiences reduce stress in the context of daily life based on salivary biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722
Lackey, N. Q., Tysor, D. A., McNay, G. D., Joyner, L., Baker, K., & Hodge, C. J. (2021). Mental health benefits of nature-based recreation: A systematic review. Annals of Leisure Research, 24(3), 379–393. https://doi.org/10.1080/11745398.2019.1655459
Li, Q. (2022). Effects of forest environment (shinrin-yoku/forest bathing) on health promotion and disease prevention —the establishment of “forest medicine.” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 27(0), 43. https://doi.org/10.1265/ehpm.22-00160
Park, B., Tsunetsugu, Y., Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., & Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The physiological effects of shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): Evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1), 18–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12199-009-0086-9
Prakash, M. D., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003