Sound mental health doesn’t necessarily have to mean investing large sums in counselling and psychiatric care. Sometimes a few minor changes in your lifestyle are all it takes. The way we live is a far cry from how our ancestors evolved, and it shows in the myriad mental and physical health problems we face. Human beings are meant to spend time outside, but too many of us spend most of our lives chained to our desks, locked away in our homes, and perpetually avoiding the heat and cold of the great outdoors.
But time outside can have immediate and long-lasting effects on your mental health. Just 30 minutes a day can spark a near-instant improvement in mental health. Here are five reasons you should spend as much time as you can outside.
Natural Sunlight and Health
You’ve probably heard a lot about how too much sun can cause skin cancer, rapid ageing, and a host of other health problems. But too little sunlight is every bit as dangerous. Indeed, sun deprivation may be as bad as smoking. Regular sunlight can improve mood, and stimulate vitamin D production. Vitamin D is vital for healthy bones and tissue, and may even contribute to improving your mood.
Sure, you could run on the treadmill or go to an indoor pool, but this turns exercise into a chore. The best exercise is the exercise you enjoy, whether gardening, walking your dog, or playing an outdoor sport. Time outside almost inevitably means more activity. Exercise remains one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Not only is exercise linked with a longer life, healthier heart, and reduced pain; it can also combat anxiety, improve self-esteem, boost body image, and may even be as effective at fighting depression as some popular antidepressants.
Life indoors is filled with seemingly endless distractions—buzzing phones, the draw of the television or computer screen, and an endless array of obligations. When you’re outside, you get a break from all of this. You also get to see how animals and plants live in the natural world. This can help slow down your thoughts and help you cultivate a meditative state of mindfulness. Mindfulness is linked to higher intelligence, better mental health, lower stress, and even a healthier heart. By taking the time to enjoy the present moment, without worrying about the future or harping on the past, you give your brain and body a valuable gift that can serve you well long after you return to life indoors.
A Break From Routine
Let’s face it: the hustle and bustle of daily life, the routine of everything, the endless bills…they can all get boring. In fact, many of our most depressed clients complain to us that their real problem is boredom. In the great outdoors, something is always different, whether it’s the birds fighting in their nest or the new flower that’s bloomed just outside your window. Time outside gives you a break from your routine, a reminder that life does not have to be endlessly monotonous, and a few brief moments to enjoy your connection to nature, free of guilt or obligations.
Opportunities to Socialise
When you take a stroll around your neighbourhood or go to a local park, you have the chance to meet new people—a chance you’ll never experience locked away in your home. New social interactions, even short ones that last only a moment, can raise self-esteem, improve social skills, and sharpen overall mental health. You might even find yourself making new friends or cultivating a new romantic interest.