Health & Wellness

Ask an Expert: Spending Time in Nature Boosts Mental Health

By Jared Hawkins |

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, adults and adolescents in the United States spend over 90% of their time indoors, and the article Screen Time Statistics in Comparitech says the average American spends more than seven hours a day looking at screens. These numbers are not encouraging for getting people outside to enjoy the benefits of nature.

Research shows that too much screen time and not enough time in nature can contribute to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, research has also found that time spent in nature has positive mental health benefits, including reduced stress, better sleep and greater happiness.

It can be difficult to find time to spend in nature because of busy day-to-day schedules, and it may seem especially hard to access nature sites in urban areas. Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to get out in nature, no matter where you live. Consider these ideas.

  • Bring nature inside. Decorating indoor spaces with live plants is a simple way to bring nature to you. You can also let natural light in through windows to brighten your home and provide views of the outdoors.
  •  Take breaks outside. Even if you only have a few minutes, take a walk or eat a meal outside. Bring your attention to the view of the trees and flowers, the sound of birds, or the feel of the wind to help increase mindfulness and decrease stress. Click here to try a mindful walking exercise.
  •  Try gardening. Gardening can be a fun way to increase your physical activity and increase your contact with nature. There are many ways to do urban and planter box gardening if you live in an apartment or area that lacks gardening space. Click here for gardening information and tips.
  •  Visit nearby nature sites. Even urban areas often have parks, streams or public gardens nearby. Consider exploring nature near you to have picnics, family games or other activities. Visiting nearby nature sites is a free or low-cost way to enjoy nature.
  •  Plan a nature trip. If you want to spend longer periods of time with nature, plan your next trip to a national park, lake, or beach to camp, rock climb, fish, hike, stargaze, bike, boat, canoe or a number of other activities.

Whether large or small, any activity that helps you spend more time connecting with nature is beneficial. It can offer enjoyable alternatives to screen time, help increase your appreciation of the earth, and provide both physical and mental health benefits.

To see information links and citations, click here.

WRITER

Jared Hawkins
Assistant Professor
Utah State University Extension
435-336-3218
Jared.Hawkins@usu.edu

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