Time in Nature for Mental Health

Is mental health on your radar? If it is, time outdoors should be too.

A once overlooked topic, mental wellbeing has made it to the forefront of wellness. Many are realising that it’s crucial to living happy and fulfilled. Poor mental health can affect every aspect of life—e.g. the relationship with ourselves, friendships, family life, and even career success.

It’s not a secret that happier employees are more productive workers. As a result, companies are learning to become more proactive in understanding and supporting their employees’ mental wellbeing.

Aside corporate initiatives and awareness, lies another complementary piece of the mental health puzzle: spending time in nature. It’s free, something we can all do in some capacity, and has measurable benefits.

Need a few reasons to get away to the beach, the bush, or the mountains next weekend?

Cleaner, more oxygenated air.

It’s pretty easy to smell the difference between city air and beach or bushland air. Our bodies can sense the difference too. Natural environments such as forests have higher levels of oxygen and an absence of damaging chemicals produced by our cities.

A study exposing young adults to two hours in city air and another two hours in forest air, found a biologically different response to both environments. Blood samples after exposure to clean outdoor air showed decreased inflammation and higher antioxidant levels.

Prolonged inflammation in the body is associated with not only increased risk of chronic diseases, but also neurodegeneration in the brain.

 Vitamin D and brain health

You may have heard that vitamin D is important for our bones and calcium absorption, but did you know it helps protect your brain as well?

Not only does vitamin D lower inflammation, but low levels are associated with depression, as well as the risk and onset of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

Short-term memory improvement

A study investigating short-term memory found that time in nature may actually improve this ability. It compared participants' short-term memory recall after a 50-minute walk in nature versus the same amount of time in an urban setting. Guess which had the greatest positive impact? The great outdoors, of course!

The flow of nature

When we spend mindful time in nature, we can’t help but slow down. After all, nature isn’t big on making plans!

It’s become a norm in society to always be on the move, planning, strategizing and ticking things off a checklist. But this persistent fast pace and forward momentum keeps us in a constant flight-or-fight mode.

Spending time around trees, grass, water and wildlife is a great way to dampen the stress response to everyday activities.

If getting away for a hike or a beach visit isn’t easy, find a local green area near work for breaks. You may even want to try green desking—bring your laptop, kick off those shoes, and settle into some green grass.

There really isn’t anything to lose by trying a bit of nature cure for yourself—but there might be a lot to gain!