Many people seek special supplements or alternative therapies as part of their self-care and improving their mental health. In actuality, there is a mental health booster that exists all around us: nature. Here in Colorado, we recognize the appeal of our natural landscape and the joy of being outside. Now, research has confirmed that spending time in nature is good for one’s mental health. Even living close to nature is enough to have an impact.
In a recent study by the University of Michigan, researchers found mental health benefits in people who spent at least 20 minutes a day in nature or places that made them feel connected with nature. In particular, those exposed to nature daily had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. To gain these benefits, it is best to avoid distraction during time in nature, such as using a cellphone or reading.
Other studies have found that spending time in nature on a regular basis can also improve depression, anxiety, memory, and brain activity. Specifically, spending long periods outdoors can lower activity in the part of the brain where rumination occurs. This means that the negative thoughts that can get stuck on repeat may quiet down during time outdoors. It is believed that having something positive to focus on (such as beautiful scenery) can help minimize negative thoughts and feelings. Additionally, the silence or calming nature sounds can also help reduce stress and heart rate compared to noisy or high-stimulus environments, like a city sidewalk.
In addition to mental health benefits, living near or spending time in nature has been associated with a reduced risk of major health conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and high blood pressure. Having regular physical activity in these spaces could strengthen these effects.