Explained: Why getting outdoors is beneficial to your mental health

We all know that getting outside, breathing in the fresh air, and soaking up sunlight (in moderation of course) is good for us, but did you ever wonder about the science behind it all? Why does it feel so good? So good in fact that just going for a quick walk or sitting outdoors can totally turn a bad day into a great one?

Johnny McManus, a counselor at Lees-McRae, explains both how and why getting outdoors can benefit not only our physical health in the form of exercise, but also our mental health.

Here is McManus’ top three reasons why you should go outside and enjoy the great outdoors.


It Helps us Disconnect.

Those of us who worked from home before COVID-19 most likely have a room set aside as a "home office." For the rest of us, it's safe to say that we are set up on kitchen tables, living room couches, and maybe even in bed. It certainly makes for a comfy work space, but when it is time to unwind there is little to no change of scenery. This often makes it much harder to separate yourself from your work, especially if it is still in piles all around you.

Putting away your work and then getting outside for an hour or two will act as a buffer between work and home. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, a poor work-life balance can lead to fatigue, poor health, lost time with friends and loved ones, and increased expectations from your job. 

It recharges our attention and ability to focus.

According to Kaplan's Attention Restoration Theory (ART), getting outside can actually help us restore our focus and ability to concentrate. A key component of the theory involves two different types of "fascination."

Hard fascination comes with highly stimulating activities, which do not offer the opportunity to reflect because you are so absorbed in them (think of the task due in the next hour that you are scrambling to finish). Soft fascination is when your attention is held by a less strenuous activity with the opportunity to introspect.

The cool thing about being in nature is that we are automatically inclined to soft fascination.  The time to reflect and let go of previous concerns while paying attention to our surroundings is incredibly restorative!

In general, sunlight is good!

This one is beneficial right now for a number of reasons. While there is no evidence of protective effects against COVID-19, studies suggest that Vitamin D can help lower the risk of "everything from osteoporosis to cancer to depression to heart attacks and stroke," according to Harvard. Light also tends to elevate mood, and research has shown that "green exercise," or exercise in nature, has added stress-relieving benefits.

So what are you waiting for? Head outside and reap those wonderful benefits! Go for a hike, take the dog for a walk, or even just take a relaxing seat on a local park bench—the options are endless. However, should you need more support, you can learn more and reach out to Counseling Services at Lees-McRae.

Written by Johnny McManus with editorial assistance by Nina Mastandrea.

By Johnny McManusApril 22, 2020
CommunityFamiliesCampus LifeAcademics