Feeling down, in the dumps, blue? Stressed and can’t shake it? Anxious about everything? If you’re like most Americans you probably head straight for the doctor and ask what can be done about it. Sleep, more exercise, diet, and even therapy are all viable options that, for many people, can preface or replace prescription drugs. There’s another ‘script docs should be writing with positive benefits...get outside!
The act of simply walking in nature can actually reduce the risk of depression. Many studies exist defending these findings, but this one from 2015 looked at the correlation of urbanization and mental health and how a little bit of nature helps a whole lot. Researchers found that a 90-minute walk in a natural setting, opposed to an urban one, reduced activity in the area of the brain connected to depression. Researchers even noted that natural areas are “vital” for mental health.
Sahar Aker knows this to be true for herself. “There's something about exercising outdoors that always helps take the edge off my depression. My go-to has always been walking outside, and I try to make it a mental workout,” explained the wellness journalist behind I Choose Beauty. During her walks, she incorporates breathing exercises or focuses on noticing the little things in her surroundings. Living in Hawai’i certainly doesn’t hurt!
As urbanization grows (currently about 50% of the world’s population), so too do mental health issues, namely depression and anxiety. Those disorders affect about 18% of the adult population in the U.S., and less than 40% of those receive treatment. Women are twice as likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) than men, and it’s common for it to co-occur with depression.
Whether taking your mental health care into your own hands, having a preference for non-medicinal care, or trying to save money, a trip outside away from the hustle of the city can work wonders for your mindset.
Another study, by the same lead researcher, found that time in nature, in general, has positive effects on mood, cognitive function, memory, and reducing anxiety. Can you even recall spending time outside in the sunshine, fresh air, and breeze when you came back feeling worse?
“There’s no easier way to flip a bad mood than to get outside,” shared Kelly Guy of NoThanksToCake.com. The lifestyle and wellness blogger gets away from her commute, office job, and other life stressors on a lake trail she discovered near her home outside Denver. “It doesn’t have to be strenuous, but it needs to include fresh air and a bonus if you’re somewhere beautiful at the same time.”
A research project coordinated out of King’s College London and the National Institute of Health has found that even a singular exposure to nature can have positive effects that last up to seven hours. In other words, start your morning with a walk or run and you’ll have a good mood that carries you throughout the day. The strong link they’ve found between nature and wellbeing has even greater benefit for those at a greater risk of mental health disorders, anxiety, and depression. The outdoors can serve as a “positive distraction” from what’s bugging you.