By Jennifer Scott
It’s common knowledge that getting outside is one of the best things you can do for your body. Whether it’s a walk around the block after supper, a bike ride on a sunny afternoon, or a few hours a week tending the garden, simply stepping outdoors makes exercise easier and more enjoyable. Moreover, it keeps your heart healthy, your muscles strong, and your joints moving.
But did you know the time you spend enjoying the great outdoors can also do wonders for your mental health? Studies show that people who spend time in “green spaces” feel more relaxed and have more positive emotions than those who don’t. But short-term stress reduction isn’t the only reason you should get outside. All that fresh air can also improve concentration, increase creativity, and even help combat sensory overload from our increasingly urban surroundings.
According to the Attention Restoration Theory, the challenge of living in a modern society is mentally exhausting us. Many of us spend too much time on activities that require our “directed attention” (like work and school and computer games), and not enough time on activities that only require “effortless attention” (like interacting with nature). This imbalance can increase stress, anxiety, and irritability. It can also make us lose focus. Even if you don’t feel particularly stressed, you might be surprised at how much more relaxed, happy, and productive you can be after even a few minutes outside. Long term, it may even help ward off mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.
From kids with ADHD to people who work at a computer all day to elderly adults suffering from dementia, everyone can benefit from at least 15 minutes per day away from television, text messages, and traffic. That’s why you’re seeing all kinds of “get outside” campaigns directed at helping people of all ages and abilities understand the benefits of time spent in the great outdoors and encouraging them to take advantage of nearby nature.
Luckily for Pennsylvania residents, the state is full of natural wonders that can help restore the body and mind. Whether you’re an avid adventurer or just a beginner, whether you have a day or a week, whether you’re heading out alone or with your whole family… this state has something for everyone.
- Retreats – From spa-like getaways to secluded cabins in the woods, take a vacation from your daily routine to relax for a long weekend or even a whole week. If you’re lucky, there may not even be cell service where you end up.
- Parks & Preserves – Pennsylvania’s dozens of national parks and nature preserves are scattered throughout the state, making it easy for any resident to take advantage of. Whether you take a leisurely stroll or go for a strenuous hike, you’ll be enjoying the mental health boost that comes along with it.
- Museums & History – The state’s rich history has been memorialized in outdoor sites like Eckley’s Miner Village, Gettysburg, and Amish Country. A trip to one of these locations is perfect for families who want to get outside AND learn a little something along the way.
- Water Activities – Whether you’re drinking it, listening to it, or playing in it, water is known to reduce stress. Rent a boat on Lake Erie, fish a local stream, or simply watch the sunset over the horizon to enjoy some of the many benefits Pennsylvania’s waterfronts have to offer.
In truth, it’s not easy to make the time to get outside. If it were, everyone would already be doing it. But if you’re interested in maintaining good mental and physical health, spending time in nature is an absolute necessity.
Jennifer Scott shares stories about the ups and downs of her anxiety and depression at SpiritFinder.