If you live in the Roaring Fork Valley, or are just visiting, it’s impossible to ignore nature. The beauty of the natural world is all around, but have you ever thought about how spending time in it can improve your mental health? Mounting evidence suggests nature provides positive benefits for both mental and physical health. The National Institutes of Health has found evidence associating exposure to nature with improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity and sleep. Stressful times require stress relief and some might argue we need it now more than ever. Here are just a few reasons to make sure you’re connecting with nature as much as possible.
The Science Behind Nature’s Stress-relief Magic
Spending just 20 to 30 minutes immersed in nature can drop cortisol levels – the body’s primary stress hormone. Time in nature has also been shown to boost endorphin levels and dopamine, both of which promote happiness. Physiologically, your body reacts to nature in predominantly positive ways. In addition to hormone levels, spending time walking in the wild can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. While the amount of time required to reach these stress-reducing results isn’t clear, most studies show it doesn’t require hours. Simply taking a few minutes out of every day to reconnect with your natural surroundings – be that a nearby park, green belt or 14-er – is an excellent way to bring your stress levels down.
Exercise, Outdoors and Stress Relief
Nature is our biggest playground, inviting us to come hike, bike, run or walk through the wild. Unlike the gym or other indoor activities, nature provides a dynamic environment in which to exercise. It requires us to be aware and take in our surroundings. Does the trail fork ahead? Can I make that corner on my bike? Will there be a heron in the inlet today? Exercising in general, but especially in nature, encourages the release of endorphins in our body. Sometimes called the “happiness hormones,” these feel-good neurotransmitters can boost our athletic performance and leave us feeling happier and more content after an outdoor workout.
Nature as a Natural Detox
While you might toss around the term “unplug” a lot these days, nature is the best way to actually do it. No plug-ins, outlets, screens, notifications, calendar reminders or distractions – just you and the natural word, beckoning you to escape the daily grind. Stepping out the door and into nature releases us from the addictive aspects of our screens. It also allows us to reconnect with reality.
Nature as a Creative Muse
With its ever-changing colors, seasons, wandering trails and wildlife, nature is the ideal place to get in touch with your creative side. Unleash your inner watercolor artist or sculptor with an outdoor session. Channeling your creativity outdoors is another excellent way to tap into nature’s unending benefits while calming your mind and reducing your stress.
Seasons of Stress Relief
Part of the appeal of nature – especially in the Roaring Fork Valley – is its constant change. In summer, don your walking or hiking shoes and find a new favorite trail. Come fall, wind through the Aspens and gather fallen leaves for a colorful collection. Winter brings with it the area’s most famous activity – skiing. But there’s plenty more to do. If you want to get your heart rate up and stress level down, try Nordic skiing or give ice skating or snowshoeing a try. And then, when spring arrives, it’s time to dust off the mountain bike or walk along the roaring rivers of the Roaring Fork Valley. Finding ways to relieve stress through nature is always just a few steps away.
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Incorporating Nature into Your Daily Routine
If the idea of connecting with nature every day sounds daunting, take it one step at a time, because in as little as a few minutes, you might see your stress level drop. If bagging a peak every day of the week isn’t a possibility – and let’s be honest, for most people it’s not – then plan to walk your kids to school instead of drive. Or take your lunch break outside. Consider a stop by a local bird sanctuary or natural space on your way home at the end of the day. If you meditate, take your practice to a nearby creek or stream. Finding small daily rituals for nature-infused living can help your mental health in very big ways.
Sharing the Joy: Family and Friends in Nature
If you want to up the reward factor when spending time in nature, bring the family or some friends along. It’s an excellent place to connect with the people you love while enjoying the benefits of being outside. Try finding one day a week to focus on an outdoor family activity, whether it be a hike, skiing together, or nature walk through the woods. For younger children, turn it into a treasure hunt for an extra dose of engagement! If your friends enjoy wild spaces as much as you do, plan a daily or weekly stress relief outing. Share your “natural” talents with others by forming a bird watching group or leading an outdoor meditation or yoga session. Nature is the ultimate shared space, so finding ways to expand your horizons or inviting others into your natural world is a great way to spread love.
Whether it’s the quiet of a morning sunrise from your favorite overlook or the rowdiness of a fall bird migration or summer storm, nature offers endless ways for you to escape the demands of daily life and reconnect with what’s important. Empower your mental health and lower stress by finding easy, accessible ways to step into nature every day.