A Stroll in Nature Improves Mental Health

Before I earned my graduate degrees and changed my career to focus on addiction treatment and recovery, I worked for the Girl Scouts. I absolutely loved my work, especially in my last years with the organization, during which among other things, I oversaw Girl Scout camp. As a girl, I regularly attended camps, begging my parents to let me go several times during the summer. I felt at my best in the forest. So it was no surprise to me that a new study out of Stanford University suggests that time spent in natural settings may improve brain health.

As more and more of us live in cities, we spend less time in natural settings, including parks. Studies also show that people in urban settings without access to green spaces have higher levels of psychological problems than those with access to green spaces. Is there a definitive connection between time spent in green spaces and mental health? The answer is yes. In a series of two studies, Stanford researchers believe there is a connection between time spent in green spaces and a decrease in “morbid rumination,” what is more commonly thought of as brooding over the negative aspects of our lives. While the study pool was small and more studies need to be done, there is no real downside to a walk in the park….

What does this mean for us?

  1. Spend Time in Natural Settings – What can it hurt to take a daily walk in the park or spend time sitting on your back porch looking at the creek (if you’re lucky enough to have that situation)? Take your lunch to a natural setting and spend vacation time at least partially in the outdoors. Doing so will immediately improve your mental health.
  1. Move – Movement is good for us. No doctor in the world says that it’s healthy to sit at home and do nothing. But instead of going to the gym, find a nature trail to hike or bike, golf, or take a stroll in the green belt. Even if you don’t get your heart rate up to aerobic activity levels, you’ll still mentally benefit from the movement.
  1. Think About How You Live and Work – I was supremely unhappy in the place I found myself living for the last five years, an urban area with a lot of green space but with the weather so hot and buggy most of the year that I could not regularly enjoy it. I made the decision to leave and put myself in a situation that was better for my physical and emotional health. While moving may not be an option available to everyone, we do have a lot of choices about our lifestyles. Living and working in a place that adds to your health is one choice we can make.



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