The great outdoors

Communing with nature can improve your mental health

Some doctors are even prescribing outdoor time

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Do you feel calm when you’re in a tree-filled park or remote forest? There’s a psychological reason for that.

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Studies have shown that air pollution can make us unhappy.

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One study even found that air pollution in urban areas could affect the cognitive development of children born outside of a city.

These days, researchers are finding more and more relationships between communing with nature and better mental health.

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For instance, a 2020 study found that children who grow up far away from natural settings experience higher levels of feelings of nervousness and depression in adulthood.

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“The people that reported more exposure to nature actually have better mental health than those that don’t,” says co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of IS Global’s urban planning, environment and health initiative.

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Another study published in 2015 showed that exposure to nature could reduce rumination.

Rumination, or the act of mentally going over and over a thought without resolution, can fuel depression and anxiety.

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The study’s abstract noted that “participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination...compared with those who walked through an urban environment.”

Around the country, doctors are even prescribing exposure to nature.

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Programs in Vermont and South Dakota partner with state park systems to refer patients to trails and parks.

Even watching nature videos can benefit mental health.

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A small group of inmates at a maximum security prison in Oregon reported feeling calmer after watching nature videos, and some reported having an easier time regulating their emotions hours later.

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As growing evidence suggests mental health problems are on the rise, it's increasingly important to get outside or travel virtually.

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Doctors say just 120 minutes of outdoor time per week (that's about 17 minutes per day) could be enough feel mental health benefits.

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