Getting outside to exercise is good for the body and soul.
By Dr. Marisa M. Tomasic
Outdoor enthusiasts are aware of the power of nature in promoting relaxation, calm and inner peace. Opportunities to connect with nature can often seem like the ideal remedy for what ails us. Thus, it comes as little surprise that science is backing up what is already known: the great outdoors has the capacity to heal and restore. Researchers in the health sciences have been investigating the ways in which nature works to calm stress, lessen anxiety, and promote greater overall health and happiness.
According to Prevention, taking one’s usual exercise and other daily activities outside is a great way to experience extra health rewards. Interestingly, just five minutes of outdoor activity has been found to be beneficial. A study from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies suggests better physical and mental health is fostered by vacationing or residing near parks and “green” areas.
Harnessing these healing properties of the outdoors for use in mental health treatment is both exciting and promising as an alternative to more traditional treatments, or when used to supplement the patient’s existing regimen. Nature therapy also referred to as ecotherapy, or “green” therapy, involves the use of open-air activities and experiences to treat mental health conditions and promote wellness, drawing on the effectiveness of nature as a harmonizing force. Included among the nature interventions are outdoor meditations, gardening, wilderness adventures, and outside exercise sessions. Findings from multiple research studies have pointed to the positive effects that nature therapy has on the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy shares a number of studies whose findings support the efficacy of ecotherapy within the veteran population. Additionally, findings from a long-term nature-based research project conducted by the University of California at Berkeley, point to the positive impact that outdoor adventures, such as whitewater rafting, have had on veterans and teens working to manage their PTSD.
Spring and summer offer an entire array of opportunities for spending time outdoors, relaxing, walking, hiking, gardening, swimming and generally having healthy fun. Nature has the potential to provide some of the much-needed “medicine” that can be incorporated into daily health routines, wellness programs, and mental health interventions. It’s always important, however, to consult with a medical or mental health provider when considering implementing new treatments or altering existing programs. The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy notes that the appeal of nature among those with PTSD lies in its promotion of peace. What a refreshingly optimistic thought going forward in the unceasing effort to bring solace and renewal to people affected by trauma.
A simple action such as more movement through physical activity is associated with improved physical and mental health. Relaxing outside has a positive effect on mental fitness and enhances an individual’s mood. Higher levels of vitamin D produced from sunlight exposure can support optimal physical and mental health. When one consciously uses the outdoors as a form of exercise not only are you improving your physical well being, you are also enhancing your mental health.