As a child, I spent countless hunting trips with my dad, roaming around the woods of Crivitz in northern Wisconsin. These experiences nurtured a love for the outdoors and a desire to spend more time in it. Near the end of college, I embarked on a backpacking and pack rafting trip in areas of Alaska where no other humans had navigated before. Through these formative experiences, I learned so much about myself and realized how much I have personally benefitted from nature. I now bring my passion for the transformational power of nature to my role as a wilderness therapist for at-risk adolescent boys at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy in Durango, Colorado.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and wilderness therapist, I want to share with you a handful of reasons why I believe spending time outdoors is one of the most important and universal prescriptions out there, no matter your age or where you live. While there is a place and a purpose for various medication prescriptions and remedies, I have a deep-rooted belief in the healing benefits of being in nature. And guess what, nature is free and accessible! Whether through a weekend camping trip with friends, a family vacation to a National Park, or lunchbreak walk in the park, nature has so much to offer us.
To start, a 2012 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, showed that for individuals diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a walk-in nature—relative to a walk in an urban setting—results in improved short-term memory, working memory, and overall cognition. There you have it, time spent in nature helps our memory. In addition to increased memory, nature also has mental health and physiological benefits. Exposure to green space is associated with reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and ADHD; lower levels of inflammation and blood pressure; and improved immune system. I see many of these benefits firsthand with my clients in wilderness therapy. It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about working in this setting.
Another study found in the journal Current Biology, shows that sleeping outdoors can help regulate your internal clock, or circadian rhythm, as you are typically going to bed with the sun and rising with the sun. This allows your body a proper amount of rest. Additionally, research published in the journal Anesthesiology shows that daylight (as opposed to artificial light) is an essential regulator of circadian rhythms. Disrupted circadian rhythms can contribute to physiological, cognitive, and other health consequences. While it is great to spend a night under the stars when you are able, it is healthy and beneficial to simply keep a routine of getting outside in the daylight during your lunch hour.
“When you need an emotional boost, the fastest and easiest way is to spend a few minutes with nature,” says Katherine D. Arbuthnott, researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan. Arbuthnott co-authored a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, which found that spending just five minutes in nature can both increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotions. Who doesn’t need that? Five minutes! Give it a try for your own natural mood boost. Additionally, research shows that spending more time outdoors helps increase your energy levels. In turn, this can improve our performance at work or help to create more energy to do the activities we love. Whether it is mountain biking, climbing, hiking, or going to the park with your kids, you’ll see the benefits internally after spending more time outdoors.
Finally, in a world that expects constant high performance, output, and efficiency—whether in the home or work environment—it is easy to feel the everyday stress of reaching these expectations. The great news? Going outside helps relieves stress! Numerous studies, including this one from the Behavioral Sciences journal, prove that visiting green spaces and being exposed to nature, even for a short amount of time per day, can help reduce stress levels. Seem too good to be true? Try it out! Incorporate at least 15 minutes of activity in nature each day this week and feel your stress levels begin to drop.
There you have it, six research-proven reasons why spending time in nature is important for your health. If you’re interested in hearing more about the benefits of nature and more about wilderness therapy in general, check out Open Sky’s SKYlights podcast which airs every other Thursday with Open Sky’s Co-founder and Executive Director Emily Fernandes. Emily thoughtfully guides conversations with Open Sky clinical therapists, family counselors, directors, field guides, and other experts about the most important topics facing adolescents and young adults today.
About the author: Morgan Seymour, LCSW is a clinical therapist at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy in Durango, Colorado. She works with adolescent boys struggling with a variety of mental health issues. After gaining experience as a wilderness therapy field guide, Morgan earned a Master of Social Work from Colorado State University. She has been a wilderness therapist since 2014. With nature as her co-therapist, Morgan loves to get creative with her interventions, challenging her students to find comfort in the uncomfortable. You can hear more from Morgan in her SKYlights podcast episode, “Game Changer: Utilizing Wilderness Therapy to Treat Adolescent Gaming Disorder.” When she is not in her wilderness “office,” you can find Morgan enjoying her southwest Colorado home with her husband, Austin, and blue heeler, Loma. Together, they love to explore the beauty that is Colorado: climbing its peaks, biking its trails, and camping beneath its stars.