Published on April 30, 2022

Spring Outdoors For Health

Woman Tying Shoe

Spring is a great time to start a new outdoors practice that can last for several months. After being cooped up for the winter, or the whole pandemic, getting outside is just what is needed. Just being outdoors has many benefits.

Julie Singh, of tripoutside.com, names several of them. They describe research that supports the claim for the benefit of time in nature to boost life satisfaction, increase absorption of vitamin D, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, reduce the risk of myopia, improve quality of sleep, burn more calories, improve mood, reduce anxiety and ruminating thoughts, lower the stress hormone cortisol, reduce memory and concentration problems, promote healing and recovery from surgical procedures, improved pain relief for chronic pain sufferers, boost immunity, increase social interaction and promote creativity. These benefits are more evident in green outdoor spaces, as opposed to urban outdoor, with greatest benefit in wilderness areas, like forests. 

There are a wide variety of activities a person can do in the outdoors. It can be as simple as taking a noonday walk. It could include a weekly bike ride, or paddle in a canoe or kayak on a local lake. Or it could include day hike in the woods, or an overnight backpacking trip in a national forest. A weekend camping trip at a state park or a state forest campground can offer an easy hike or swim, but also the “forest bathing” that the Japanese culture has promoted for health.

Time in nature can also be less traditional activity. Taking a crossword, a book or journal out into the woods with a folding chair can offer a great opportunity for the quiet needed for improved concentration. But a seat in the woods can also be a time of simple quiet observation, heightening mindfulness by observing the world around you. It can be an external meditation watching and noticing what one notices, but also a quiet space for internal meditation, focusing on a mantra or noticing internal sensations.

The great outdoors has long been a favorite place to try some “plein air,” or outdoor, painting. Bringing painting or drawing supplies outdoors can truly change the perspective of what art is, but also what the outdoors has to offer. It can be a completely absorbing experience to find a place with a view that is interesting, and settle down to recreate it in paint, pencil, pastels or ink.

Humans need both physical and mental stimulation. These activities are a great source of stimulation that will result in a great boost of wellness and health, both from being outdoors and from the activity itself. It is a double dose of health, physical and mental, which always go hand in hand. These activities can be thought of as medicine that a person needs on a regular basis, and can even prevent the need for some other types of medicines. Research suggests that two hours a week outdoors is enough to notice improvements in health.

For those who need more intense treatment for mental health conditions MyMichigan Health provides an intensive outpatient program called the Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program at MyMichigan Medical Center Alma. Those interested in more information about the PHP program may call (989) 466-3253. Those interested in more information on MyMichigan’s comprehensive behavioral health programs may visit www.mymichigan.org/mentalhealth.