It is no secret that getting outside has been known to improve mental health. Think back to the last time you spent time outside. How did you feel? Chances are you felt a bit better after breathing in the fresh air and taking in some sunshine. From stepping out your front door for a 10-minute walk to a multi-day camping trip, spending time outdoors provides many benefits for your mental health.

Energizes the brain

Our senses take in experiences and send them to the brain, where they are processed and either creates positive, negative, or neutral outcomes. Studies have shown that just looking at nature (like a picture of flowering green roof) and hearing nature sounds (like crickets and crashing waves) can energize and help the brain to perform better.

Sunshine also has a positive impact on the brain, especially in the morning. Sunlight affects our sleep-wake cycle, also known as circadian rhythm. Taking in sunlight when you first wake up can help you be more alert during the day and have a better sleep at night. Sunlight also has been shown to boost mood because exposure to sunlight releases “the happy hormone”, known as serotonin.

Lowers stress

Historically, stress helped our ancestors to survive in life-threatening events by triggering the fight or flight response. However, in our modern society there has been an increase in chronic stress, resulting in many physical and mental problems, such as high blood pressure and burnout.

More than one hundred studies show that being in nature reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels, which is the hormone responsible for triggering stress in the body. Stress decreases within minutes of being in nature, which is measured by muscle tension, blood pressure, and brain activity.

Increases self-belief

The outdoors offers many opportunities for new experiences and to challenge yourself. Self-belief (also known as self-efficacy) is your belief in your own abilities to accomplish tasks and goals. The more you build your self-belief, the better you are at facing hard times. In other words, it builds your resiliency.

When you make a commitment to go for walk and follow through, your self-belief increases. Another way you can build your self-belief is by stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new, like a solo camping trip. It is important to frame your success by accomplishing your goal to step out of your comfort zone instead of how good you think you were at the activity.

Where to go and what to do

For those of us in the Alberta Capital Region, you don’t have to go far to experience the benefits of nature! Edmonton is home to the largest urban park in Canada, with more than 160 kilometers of maintained pathways and 20 major parks.

Looking to challenge yourself with something new?

As the days get warmer, try out some of these experiences around the Edmonton area: