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Why you should resolve to spend more time outdoors in the new year

Have you noticed how a vacation to the hills or the seaside helps elevate your mood? Or even a walk around the park, for that matter helps take your mind of anything that may be bothering you. Straying from the humdrum of your daily lives definitely has its own effects on your mood. But there just might be more than that.

It is believed that staying outdoors has a positive effect on your mental health. To understand this phenomenon, researchers at Stanford University conducted a study to critically analyze the effects of taking a stroll in a lush green area as opposed to spending the same time walking near heavy traffic. The first set of volunteers briefly walking through the green areas were found to be more attentive and happier. In other words, you may be playing a sport, tending to your vegetable patch, reading a book under a tree, or just sitting on a park bench. Your exposure to the outdoors impacts your mental well-being. It reportedly reduces instances of anxiety, improves cognitive faculties and acts as a stimulant for good mood.

Further researches conducted within this area, have found that nature can influence rumination, which is a known risk factor for mental illness. In one study, participants were encouraged to take a 90 min long walk through their natural environment, and later partake in a psychological evaluation. The study reported lower instances of focused negative thoughts about the self, as well as reduced neural activities in the area of the brain with links to risks of mental illness.

While there is enough and more research that have been dedicated to the discovery of the benefits of nature on the human mind and mood, new research is being conducted to ascertain the amount of time one needs to spend in order to reap these benefits. Research conducted at The University of Queensland (UQ) and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) found that people who visit the park for 30 minutes or more every week are much less likely to develop mental health issues. Furthermore, children who spend more time outdoors are believed to benefit developmentally as well as have a heightened sense of environmental awareness.

Now that we know that our environment can benefit our mental health, the next task invariably is to understand the ‘how’ of the process.

One explanation is in relation to the activities undertaken while outdoors, for example, walking. Walking for at least 30 minutes every day, not only works all your prominent muscles, but also helps to actively increase blood circulation and oxygen flow. Also, any form of exercise stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, in other words, the ‘happy hormones’, that contribute towards a positive mood change. Research has discovered that only does physical exercise conducted outdoors lower the prevalence of chronic and lifestyle diseases, but also improve one’s self-esteem and an overall sense of wellbeing. It lowers age-related cognitive degeneration, leads to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and thereby is an effective precaution against the development of mental disorders.

In this case, the sights around you have a role to play. Psychologists and therapists have always opined that there persists a relation between exposure to different colours and psychological functioning.

In this case, the sights around you have a role to play. Psychologists and therapists have always opined that there persists a relation between exposure to different colours and psychological functioning.

Literature relating to colour therapy finds that while warm colours like red, yellow and orange are believed to stimulate excitement or arousal as a response, colours like blue and green have a soothing and restful effect on the human mind. Since blue and green are closer to the centre of the colour spectrum, they are more balanced and induce a more comforting effect.

Going on a holiday is great idea for a break from work-life, to explore new places and rejuvenate – mentally and physically. But spending time outdoors, every day, is necessary. So step out more often. Fill your lungs with the freshness of the air. Listen to birds chirp to the tune of your fluttering heart, and take in all the beautiful sights. You will find yourself living easier and more content.

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