Benefits of Being Outdoors: The Connection Between Nature and Mental Health

Mar 28, 2022 | Camps

Spring is on the way in Idaho and we’re ready to start enjoying some time in nature, the great outdoors, longer days and warmer weather.

Common sense seems to tell us that spending time outdoors can be good for your health. Many children often hear from their parents that they should be spending more time outdoors, and less time inside the house. However, in spite of this passed-down wisdom, very few people could likely describe exactly why being outdoors is good for you, how it helps to improve your health, or even what kinds of outdoor activities are best.

Fortunately, medical science has stepped in where hand-me-down wisdom cuts off. This is especially true when it comes to the connection between nature and mental health.

Decreased Stress

Most of the time, stress is a normal and healthy feeling that everybody experiences. It drives us to meet tight deadlines and work hard to achieve our goals. However, stress can easily spiral out of control. When it does, it can cause discomforts like headaches, chest pain, and more.

Regulating stress is important, both for your mental and physical health. 

Fortunately, spending time outdoors is a great way to lower your stress. A study in the scientific journal Health & Place found that people who spent more time outdoors — especially in areas with prevalent green plant life — were less stressed than those who mostly confined themselves indoors. Doing activities in nature — such as walking, hiking, or gardening — were especially beneficial in lowering and managing stress and physical health.

Reduced Depression and Anxiety

Anxiety and depression are two common mental health problems faced by Americans today. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 25 percent of children between the ages of 13 and 18 have reported an anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, 13 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have had at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depression and anxiety can cause a child to feel lonely or could even affect performance in school. Fortunately, spending time outdoors has been linked to reduced rates of depression and anxiety. Once again, spending time in green spaces is especially helpful. Finding time to exercise outdoors, whether that involves walking, biking, or any other outdoor activities could help lift your spirits.

Some research has found that specific outdoor activities, such as rock climbing, can help treat depression.

Improved Focus

So far we’ve seen that spending time outdoors can help to improve mental health, by decreasing the negative side effects of conditions like stress, anxiety, and depression. However, the great outdoors can do more than just treat mental health problems. It can also improve focus.

One study found that spending time in nature improved both memory and attention in certain cognitive tasks given to the subjects by researchers. This was in contrast to tests performance by individuals who spent most of their time in urban environments.

Enhanced Creativity

Focus isn’t the only benefit to cognition from spending time outside. Many famous creatives throughout history have been known to find their inspiration in nature. The Romantic era composer Johannes Brahms was famous for taking long walks in nature, during which he would reflect on his compositions and seek out the musical inspiration behind many of his masterpieces.

You don’t just have to trust Brahms on this, though. Researchers have found that backpackers were more creative after spending four days in the wilderness. However, it’s unclear if this boost in creativity was due to their exposure to nature, their separation from technology, or a mixture of both.

Increased Generosity

Spending time outdoors can help you to be a happier, more focused, and more creative person. However, you aren’t the only one who benefits from your experiences in nature. Some studies have found that spending time in nature can make us more caring about the lives of other people.

This boost of generosity might encourage you to find ways to volunteer and give back to your community. Even if you can’t volunteer, there are other ways for generous people to give to people in need.

The science is clear: spending time outdoors has a very positive effect on mental health, improving certain mental health conditions. It can also help you to become a better person, by improving your cognition and making you more generous to the people around you. If you’d like to spend more time outside, there are many great outdoor activities for families that can help you get started. 

These kinds of experiences are especially important for children who are battling cancer. The stressors these children face provide a variety of barriers to living a childhood comparable to that of their peers. Subsequently, these children particularly stand to gain from the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors. You can give these kids a host of great experiences in nature by sending them to summer camp!