As spring brings glorious sun and 70-degree weather to California, there is no better time to naturally boost your mental and physical health by getting outdoors.
Mental Health Benefits
Imagine for a second that you are walking through the forest, hearing the crunch of leaves beneath your feet, the occasional chirping of one bird to another, the soft rustle as a breeze brushes through the canopy leaves, and even the light trickle of a stream running a few yards to your left. You are surrounded by the colors of the forest: greens of all shades, deep reds, woody browns. You take a deep breath of forest air, inhaling the scent of fresh pine needles, with a hint of damp wood. A small bird, perhaps some sort of chickadee, flits down from a tree to peck at stray seeds and insects on the forest floor. It peers calmly up at you, unbothered as you make your way past the little fellow. You are at peace with the nature, and the nature at peace with you.
Do you feel calmer after even imagining yourself in nature? Have you ever felt better after getting some “fresh air”? Well now there is science to back up that feeling! Studies have shown that being in nature and green spaces naturally boosts mood and decreases negative feelings like anxiety and loneliness. Natural environments can have a calming effect and aid in recovery from stressful events, which we have all been exposed to recently in one way or another. Though nature provides health benefits for everyone, these benefits can be especially profound in older adults, through improvements in attention and cognitive function. For individuals with dementia, exposure to nature improved emotional states by reducing stress, agitation, anger, apathy, and depression.
Getting out in nature really will improve your psychological well-being, and with the current state of the world, we could all use a mental health boost at the moment.
Physical Health Benefits
Getting out in nature is also a great way to improve your physical health and prevent certain health conditions: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, to name just a few. Exposure to nature has been shown to decrease cholesterol and blood pressure, improve immune system function, and regulate sleep patterns, all of which may contribute to nature working as a preventative measure for negative health conditions. Doctors are even beginning “prescribing” nature for patients, both to treat chronic health conditions and as a preventative measure.
Outdoor exercise can be a great way to magnify the benefits of nature, and use of greenspaces, like parks and other natural spaces, has been associated with being more physically active and less overweight and obese. This exercise can be modified to your level of fitness and mobility. You could go for a run or a brisk walk. You could do some stretching, yoga, or strength exercises out in a park. Even taking a stroll around your background can help, if that is what you feel comfortable with right now. Find out what works for you and stick with it!
Find Time for Nature
In summary, getting out into nature can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Getting outdoors can be a long mountain hike, or it can be as simple as heading into your backyard, or even walking around your apartment complex, and listening to the birds chirping or the leaves rustling in the trees. If you feel unsafe or are concerned because you're unsteady, bring a friend and be sure to use a steady walker or cane (Contact your healthcare provider or Yolo Healthy Aging Alliance if you need help finding these).
Whatever you choose, try to spend at least two hours in parks and nature each week, more if you are able! And don’t forget to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect your skin from the sun.
To hear more, watch YHAA’s Healthy Parks, Healthy People video below.