Nature's Rx: 11 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health Outdoors

Nature's Rx: 11 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health Outdoors

Amidst a non-stop world where screens, schedules, and stress often steal the show, doctors are now turning to the great outdoors. Explore these eleven prescribed activities that not only combat stress and kindle happiness but also provide a revitalizing escape from the daily grind.

1. Go to the zoo

The recent collaboration between the Toronto Zoo and PaRx, an initiative from the BC Parks Foundation, marks a significant step in promoting the therapeutic benefits of nature. Regulated healthcare professionals can now prescribe a visit to the zoo as an integral component of their patients' mental and physical well-being. This initiative is part of a larger movement that has already seen over 11,000 healthcare providers providing "nature prescriptions" since 2020. It highlights the growing recognition of nature's role in overall health.

Tips for Beginners: If you're planning a trip to the Toronto Zoo, make the most of this unique prescription by taking your time to connect with nature. Stroll through the zoo's beautiful surroundings, observe the wildlife in their natural habitats, and allow the serenity of the experience to rejuvenate your mind and body. It's a chance to experience the healing power of nature right in the heart of the city.

2. Take a hike

Whether you're tackling a challenging trail or simply taking a leisurely stroll, spending time outdoors hiking can boost your mental health by reducing stress levels, improving mood, and increasing physical activity. Even if it's a leisurely stroll or an arduous climb, hiking works wonders for your mental well-being. Not only does it reduce stress and elevate your mood, but it also gets your body moving, improving your physical health. Did you know that a study by researchers discovered that hikers had a remarkable reduction in cortisol levels, the hormone linked to stress? Nature and its wonders have an incredible way of de-stressing us.

Tips for Beginners: If you're new to hiking, start with easy trails and gradually work your way up to more challenging ones. Invest in good-quality hiking shoes, carry sufficient water, and remember to enjoy the journey.

3. Go for a bike ride

I still cherish the memories of my first bike ride through the countryside. The freedom, the rush of wind, and the sense of adventure instantly brightened my mood. Cycling is a fun way to get outside and explore nature while getting a great workout. It can also boost your creativity and productivity, as research has shown that exposure to natural surroundings can enhance cognitive function. Cycling is an amazing way to immerse yourself in nature while getting a fantastic workout. It's not just about physical benefits; research shows that cycling also sparks creativity and productivity. Exposure to natural surroundings is like a brainpower booster. It helps improve cognitive functions, allowing you to tackle tasks with a fresh perspective.

Tips for Beginners: If you're new to cycling, select flat and beginner-friendly routes. Safety should be your priority, so always wear a helmet and ensure your bike is in good condition.

4. Practice mindfulness

There's something magical about the outdoors and fresh air. Spending time outdoors can be a great opportunity to practice mindfulness while increasing feelings of well-being. Studies show it increases connectivity in brain regions linked to emotional regulation, promoting mental balance.

Tips for Beginners: Find a quiet spot, focus on your breath, and observe the natural world around you. Mindfulness can be challenging at first, so don't be discouraged if your mind wanders – gently bring your attention back to the present.

5. Have a picnic

Some of my fondest memories involve enjoying a simple picnic amidst nature's beauty. Whether it's in a park or by a serene lake, it's the perfect way to connect with loved ones and unwind. Eating outdoors is a great way to enjoy nature and socialize with friends or family. Plus, studies have shown that spending time with loved ones can have positive effects on mental health. 

Tips for Beginners: Choose a scenic location, pack your favourite snacks, and bring a cozy blanket. Remember, it's all about the experience, so relax and savour the moment.

6. Take a swim

There's nothing like the feeling of plunging into a cool, refreshing pool on a hot day. It's like a quick mental reset. Swimming is a great way to cool off on a hot day and get some exercise at the same time. It's also a low-impact activity that can help improve cardiovascular health.  Plus, the natural buoyancy of the water can lift your spirits.

Tips for Beginners: If you're new to swimming, start in a shallow area and gradually build your confidence. Prioritize safety, consider taking swimming lessons if needed and always swim with a buddy!

7. Go bird-watching

Bird-watching may not sound exciting, but the thrill of spotting a rare bird is surprisingly exhilarating. It's like a treasure hunt in nature. Bird-watching is a delightful and educational way to connect with the outdoors. It enhances mental clarity and focus as you immerse yourself in the world of feathered friends. Studies have shown that it can sharpen your observational skills and cultivate patience.

Tips for Beginners: Grab a pair of binoculars, a field guide, and a notebook. Begin with common birds and gradually progress to rarer species. Patience is key in this tranquil hobby.

8. Have a garden party

I've witnessed firsthand how tending to a garden can be a therapeutic escape. Planting, weeding, and nurturing life in your backyard is immensely rewarding.

Gardening positively impacts mental health, reducing stress and anxiety. Whether it's a single pot of herbs or a blooming garden, nurturing and observing your plants' growth fosters a sense of accomplishment.

Tips for Beginners: Start small with easy-to-grow plants, and gradually expand your garden. Don't forget to involve friends and family in garden parties – they're a great way to share the joys of gardening. Spending time tending to a garden can positively affect mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. Invite friends over for a garden party to share the benefits of spending time outdoors!

9. Take a yoga class outside

Yoga is a great way to improve flexibility, strength, and balance, and practicing it outdoors can help reduce stress levels and improve mood.

Practicing yoga outdoors is like a double dose of relaxation. The blend of fresh air, gentle movements, and the symphony of nature is truly rejuvenating.  Yoga enhances flexibility, strength, and balance. When practiced outdoors, it reduces stress levels and lifts your mood. The natural setting encourages mindfulness and presence, making your yoga session even more powerful.

Tips for Beginners: Seek out beginner-friendly outdoor yoga classes. But if you prefer solo practice, choose a quiet spot, bring your mat, and start with basic poses. The connection with nature will enhance your experience.

10. Visit a provincial or national park

Provincial parks have been my sanctuaries. Each visit is an opportunity to explore the incredible beauty of nature, and it's a journey that never fails to restore my mental equilibrium.

National parks offer an unparalleled opportunity to connect with the great outdoors. Studies have affirmed that time spent in nature boasts numerous mental and physical health benefits. It's an adventure that improves well-being on many levels, and now is being prescribed by doctors everywhere.  

Tips for Beginners: Research the park you plan to visit, pack essentials like water, sunscreen, and a map, and follow marked trails. Don't forget to take it all in – you're in for an awe-inspiring experience.

11. Simply relax

Sometimes, doing nothing is everything. Finding a quiet spot outdoors to sit, soak in the sunshine, and appreciate the beauty is the ultimate mental refresh.

The simple act of relaxation outdoors can work wonders for your mental health. Nature uniquely calms your mind, reduces stress, and offers a profound sense of peace. It's a mental health booster that requires no effort.

Tips for Beginners: Find a serene spot, bring a blanket or chair, and just be. Nature will do the rest. Remember to leave behind your worries and embrace the nature around you.

Remember that the great outdoors is more than just a place; it's your powerful ally in the pursuit of mental well-being. So, step outside, and let nature work its magic!

Image Credit: Fabio Comparelli

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