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Mental and Physical Health Benefits of the Environment

Back to Nature

With technology, there are a lot more entertainment and games to be played staying indoors these days. Hours and entire days can be spent on videogames, Netflix, and of course, the Internet. While these indoor activities can be fun, it’s important not to forget to spend time outdoors. You can have lots of fun outdoors and be creative with how you interact with everything in your environment. Being closer to nature is great for your physical and mental health and can be a grand adventure!


Health benefits to going outdoors

There have been many studies linking outdoor activities with positive impacts to both physical and mental health. It’s especially important to spend a large amount of time playing outdoors when you are young. Besides the health benefits, playing outdoors bolsters your creativity and appreciation for the environment.


Mental health:

Being out in nature as opposed to remaining in an urban area can improve your attention, reduce anger and agitation, reduce blood pressure, and improve sleep.1
More time spent outdoors reduces stress. Being cooped up indoors adds to stress in children and can also lead to anxiety and depression, so it’s important to make time throughout the day to play outdoors.
Social interactions and communication improves with more time spent outdoors. This gives more opportunities to interact with others and meet new people.

Physical health:

Playing outdoors and really giving movement to your body is great exercise. It’s important to develop active and healthy bodies to prevent health problems in the near and distant future. More exposure to light can also make you feel happier and relaxed. Working up your body during the day can also lead to a good night’s rest.
Getting exercise outdoors also means you’re spending less time inside in front of the TV or computer. This is better for your eyes, as children who spend more time outdoors are more likely to have better distance visions and reduced likelihood of nearsightedness.2
More time outside also increases your intake of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps prevent conditions such as bone problems, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depressions, osteoporosis, and others.3 

However, there are circumstances when the correlation between nature and improved health is not necessarily true. If you are living in a neighborhood near a factory, waste treatment facility, or any other heavily industrialized areas, be weary or your surroundings. Be especially aware of bodies of water in your area as they may be contaminated with waste released by those companies. Air and soil may be contaminated similarly that can result in various diseases and illnesses.


Having fun outdoors

But what does it mean to go back to nature? Nature, in the sense of something being natural, is difficult to find these days. Our environment has been greatly altered by human means, whether it is taking something out of the environment or putting something into it. For example, cutting down trees and planting trees are both changes made to the environment by humans. Nature can also sound like a setting that has very little human-made structures, such as houses or utility poles. In urban settings, it is difficult to find an area nearby where the only sounds you can hear are from rivers, trees, birds and other species.

Going on an adventure: For some, these environments may be found in your backyard. For others, it may involve walking or driving some distance. Either way, the idea of going “back to nature” prompts a more nostalgic sense of going on an adventure. Perhaps this involves going on a quest to find hidden treasure! Two movies that stand out in portraying this nostalgia are The Goonies (1985) and Stand by Me (1986). Both movies feature a group of friends going on an outdoor adventure to find pirate treasure and a dead body, respectively. Through it all, they form a deeper bond with one another, learn about their own strengths, and are forced to creatively get out tight spots and face their fears. Though the second quest isn’t necessarily encouraged, you can have a great time backpacking with a group of friends.

If you do go on a journey with friends, be sure to have fun safely, stay hydrated, and let an adult know about your whereabouts!


Outdoor restoration and landscaping: Another way to spend some more time outdoors is to improve and add to the environment in your community or backyard. You can participate in restoration of ecosystems, removal of invasive species in your community, or basic yard work. Even raking leaves or pulling weeds can be relaxing by simply breathing in fresh. You can also start a backyard or community garden. It can be a lot of work, but you’ll feel very refreshed compared to staying indoors.


Create a fortress in your backyard: Sure, videogames can take you to different realms and castles in faraway lands, but you can make your own stories with the environment around you! Gather some friends, wear costumes and wield props and have a duel outside. Do you have a favorite scene from a movie or television show? Re-enact it with your friends. And remember: don’t be afraid to get dirty and be creative!


Nature observation: Make observations of the various species in your surroundings. Take pictures and make sketches of them and keep track of their growth. Become an expert on the different birds and plants in your backyard or neighborhood. You can also figure out what kind of soil, or dirt, is around you. You might think all dirt is dirt, but they are much more interesting and diverse than that! Grab a handful of soil and add some water to it until it feels like play dough. Then, follow the directions here (http://socialecologies.net/cms/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Picture-6.png) and find out what texture soil you have!


Form or join a nature club: Enjoy a variety of outdoor activities with other families and youths in your community. Nature clubs can plan various activities throughout the year, such camping, hiking, or restoration work. With a larger group of people, activities can be more fun and feel safer. Children who don’t have parents or guardians who can take them on outdoor activities can join nature clubs where they can make new friends and experiences. This is also very educational, as children can learn more about plant and animal life, ecosystem services the environment provides, and other practical and social skills in life. Whatever unexpected occurrence or problem that comes up, it’s good for children to problem solve and cooperate with one another to solve the problem.   

  1. Lines, E. 2013. The Nurture of Nature: Natural Settings and their Mental Health Benefits. Minding Our Bodies. Retrieved from http://www.mindingourbodies.ca/about_the_project/literature_reviews/the_nurture_of_nature.
2. National Wildlife Federations. n/a. Health Benefits. National Wildlife Federations. http://www.nwf.org/be-out-there/why-be-out-there/health-benefits.aspx.
3. Harvard Health Publications. 2010. Spending time outdoors is good for you, from the Harvard Health Letter.Harvard Medical School. http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you.

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