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Benefits of Life in the (Socially Distanced) Great Outdoors


By: Karen Yontz Center Staff

It’s finally getting to be that time of year where grass greens up, flowers and leaves are exploding everywhere, the air is getting warmer, and we are all itching to get outside and enjoy it. Spending time in nature has been shown to help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and well-being. Exposure to greenspace also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as Type II diabetes and high blood pressure. It can also help you sleep longer. Nature doesn’t always have to mean a wide-open meadow or a huge dense forest. It can also mean urban greenspaces like parks and street greenery. Which is a good thing considering we are a bit limited in our access to nature right now.

Being outside has many benefits. Working out in nature has been shown to help reduce anxiety more than working out indoors in a gym. A 90-minute walk in a natural setting lowers activity in the part of the brain that’s linked to negative rumination. Time in nature results in more prosocial behaviors like generosity and empathy while also giving you a sense of belonging to the wider world, which is vital for your mental health. And it’s not just exercising outdoors that helps either. Studies have shown that even just looking out the window at a greenspace or looking at photos of nature can boost people’s mood and lower depression symptoms.

How can you take advantage of these benefits? First of all, know that nature can be found wherever you are. As we are all staying closer to home, learn to appreciate your own neighborhood and the greenspaces it has to offer. Visit a local or state park that you know is open. Use your backyard if you have one. Be aware of social distancing guidelines in your area. If you venture to the park or a local hiking trail, make sure you are keeping at least 6 ft. of distance, if not more, from others. There are some schools of thought that suggest you “double your distance” while exercising outside because the greater volume and rate of breathing you experience while working out has the risk of spreading the virus further. Going biking, hiking, or jogging are all safe activities, provided you keep your distance. Contact activities like frisbee or catch should only be played with members of the same household, far away from other people. Don’t underestimate the power of a long stroll through your neighborhood either. Again, make sure you leave enough space between yourself and others. If you bring along your pooch, be aware that this is not the time to let others pet him or her. Be polite, but let people know that you’d appreciate if they didn’t touch the dog right now. The same goes for chatting with neighbors. You’ll likely run into other people, just make sure you are talking from a safe distance.

The main thing to remember is that being outside right now is important for all of us—for our heart health and our mental health. The outdoors is a big place. Spread out, observe proper social distancing guidelines, and respect the public areas you visit. And if you can’t leave your home because you are feeling sick or need to isolate, enjoy the many National Park tours that are online. Enjoy our great outdoors—just be smart and safe about it!


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