We take it for granted that getting outside for a walk is good for our physical health, but what is often overlooked is how important spending time outside is for your mental health and well-being. As the days get longer, it’s time to shift from hibernation mode and focus on the therapeutic power of the great outdoors. We look at six reasons why getting outside is great for your mental health.
The saying ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ has rarely been as true as it is right now. There is the general anxiety of these “uncertain times”, of course. Add the emotional strains of being more isolated from friends, family and colleagues, and the monotonous (primarily indoor) routines of socially-distanced – for many of us, lockdown – life, and finding the little things that make a positive difference to our state of mind becomes more important than ever.
Various global studies have shown that spending time outside can do wonders for our mental health; relieving anxiety, stress, and depression. It doesn’t have to be a huge, all-terrain hike either. A wander in your local green space. A walk in a nearby wood. A seaside stroll. Whatever you do, make sure you follow the latest guidance from the government where you live – England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or beyond – and enjoy these 6 benefits (as well as plenty more) for your mental health and well-being.
Feeling distracted and finding it hard to concentrate? Grab your boots and go for a walk in nature. Step away from your desk, away from Zoom, and put distance between yourself and the dozens of open internet explorer tabs. Research shows that a break and wander outside can ultimately help restore your focus.
Filling your lungs with fresh air raises levels of oxygen in your brain, which boosts your levels of serotonin – a hormone that acts as a mood stabiliser – bringing feelings of happiness and calm. For an extra mood lift, getting your heart rate up with a brisker walk, hike or bike ride will produce endorphins, another feel-good hormone that improves your mood and lowers stress, anxiety and depression.
So we know that regularly walking in the great outdoors can improve your mood, but thanks to the same science, it can also boost your confidence and self-esteem. The same hormones that lower stress and make you happy, also make you feel great about yourself.
Sunlight (even a fleeting British sliver of it) can fill your body and mind with a feeling of well-being. Importantly, it is also a source of vitamin D, which is important for brain function and mood regulation. Sunny, blue-skied day? Get out there and soak it in.
Feeling anxious or overwhelmed? Studies have shown time and time again that spending time in nature reduces feelings of stress. But a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology went further to show that even just twenty minutes walking while immersed in nature was enough to significantly reduce the levels of stress hormone cortisol in our body. Rumination – focusing on negative thoughts – can be heightened by long periods alone inside. Walking outside motivates you to pivot your attention outward at the world instead of inward, giving you a break from overthinking and your worries.
If you’re a camper, you might have noticed how much better you sleep outdoors. The good news is that you don’t need to move your bed into the garden to recreate this superior slumber. Going for a walk, especially during the afternoon or early evening, is one thing that can help you relax and clear your mind after a busy day, improving the quality of your sleep. A study published in the journal Sleep Health even revealed a link between the number of steps taken during the day and quality of sleep. Take those steps outside surrounded by nature and it follows that the effects will be even more positive.
So, what are you waiting for? Make time for more nature and fresh air in your daily routines, and you will feel the benefits, we promise. It’s time to grab your boots.