Nature in the winter is good for your mental health

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests time spent outdoors in nature boosts well-being and the strongest impact is on young people!

It’s winter in Michigan, get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air! There is a growing body of evidence that suggests time spent outdoors boosts well-being. Don’t limit your outdoor time to three seasons: get out in nature to beat the winter-time blues! Walking, skiing, sledding, ice skating, fishing, snowshoeing and more are all fine outdoor winter activities.

The strongest benefits of outdoor time can be seen in young people, as researchers claim just five minutes of exercise in “green space” or “snow space” can boost mental health. According to the Green Cities: Good Health website: “Educational theory suggests that contact with nature facilitates children’s development of cognitive, emotional and spiritual connections to social and biophysical environments around them. Ecological theory also suggests that contact with nature is important for children’s mental, emotional and social health because imagination and creativity, cognitive and intellectual development and social relationships are encouraged in outdoor activity, all of which improve the child’s mental health and function.”

Physically, being outdoors improves health because when you breathe fresh air, your body sends oxygen through the blood and allows the lungs to work at full capacity. Stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths can improve your mood and productivity. Being in the sunshine, especially on a winter day, can also help your body absorb Vitamin D, which can elevate one’s mood.

Another well-documented benefit of increased outdoor time is increased social interaction. Being outdoors can improve your mood, help you relax, reduce mental stress and increase your confidence levels, making it easier to interact with others. Having friends and meeting new people, in turn, has its own positive effect on mental health.

Make time every day, or at least a few times per week, to get outdoors for your mental health. Bundle up, take a brisk walk, shovel some snow, or cross country ski and enjoy the beauty of Michigan. Whether it is a city park or a hike through the woods, fresh air is essential for your well-being. So get out and enjoy this fabulous natural resource, it’s good for your mental health!

For more Michigan State University Extension articles on nature and your health, check out Go outside and play - it’s good for you!

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