Going outside can improve your mental health: report

Apr 21 2020, 3:46 pm

A new study from the University of Washington has revealed that even just a little bit of nature can help mental health.

“In these times, I think our minds can be a little out of control. Part of the effect of nature is that it can soften negative conditioned mental patterns,” psychologist Peter Kahn explained in a news release.

“If you can find nature, engage with it and get your heart rate down, then your mind begins to settle. When your mind isn’t ruminating, it can then open to a wider world, where there’s great beauty and healing.”

Although Governor Jay Inslee has put in place a Stay home, Stay healthy order, UW researchers are urging Seattleites to step into their backyards at least once a day or go on a neighborhood walk to boost their mental health.

Over the last decade, Kathleen Wolf, a UW research social scientist in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, has been studying how nature experiences improve human health.

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature — a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant — can generate health benefits,” she said in a news release.

“One study found that a 20-minute ‘dose’ of nature in cities reduced stress levels. Another showed that more tree cover helped lessen symptoms of depression among residents of nursing homes. A study in Sweden found that access to a garden significantly reduced participants’ stress. Access to gardens or views of nature can even reduce the strength and frequency of food cravings.”

Don’t have a garden? No problem. The university mentions that the benefits can be replicated by tending to a small garden or potted plants, sitting in the grass under a tree, walking barefoot, listening to birds sing, or even studying a single flower.

The news release also says that gazing out of a window or looking at nature photos online are effective in promoting positive mental health.

“It’s important to be mindful, commit to the activity and think about your observations while looking at these materials or elements of nature,” Wolf explained.