I love being outside, seeing the trees, flowers, birds and other wildlife. I live in a suburb, not far from farm fields. So I can experience many of those things in my own backyard.

When circumstances or bad weather keep me inside, I can get stir crazy. Maybe you’ve experienced that too? Well, that is more than a coincidence.

Studies have shown that people who live near a park or wooded area are less anxious and less depressed than those who live further away. Having as little as five minutes of “green exercise” in a park or other green space could benefit your mental health and improve your sense of well-being. Why is that?

There are definite physical reasons for feeling better. The main reason is likely the positive effect sunlight has on our bodies. Sunlight naturally encourages our production of vitamin D which has many health benefits, including strengthening our bones and teeth, lowering the risk of some cancers, bolstering our immune system and possibly helping control inflammation associated with arthritis. When our bodies feel better, our outlook on life is brighter.

Time spent connecting with nature can improve the quality of our sleep. Natural sunlight helps set our body’s internal clock telling us when to eat and sleep, and helps normalize hormonal functions that happen at certain times of the day. Not getting enough sleep can not only make us cranky, but over the long term it can hinder our ability to lose weight, contributing to other health concerns.

Another benefit of spending time in the great outdoors is that it can give us time away from technology and other possible stress-inducers. Taking our minds off our daily concerns can give our souls a chance to recharge.

In addition to visiting a park or walking through your neighborhood, try visiting some of the many established trails in Johnson County to get closer to nature:

If you’re not a big walker or runner, you can still reap the benefits of the great outdoors. Find a quiet, peaceful place and sit for a spell. Read a book, watch the birds or spy on your neighbors (just kidding!) I keep a folding camp chair in the trunk of my car just in case I have the unexpected opportunity to spend a few moments outside.

So, pay heed to nature’s prescription for better mental and physical health and spend some mood-lifting, body-strengthening time in our great outdoors!

Linda is the White River Branch Manager and leader of our staff wellness team. Staying healthy and keeping fit are keen interests of Linda. Her goal is to enable others to live a healthy lifestyle through good nutrition, physical fitness and a positive outlook, although (shhhhh) she does confess a weakness for potato chips and Cheetos! Join the conversation at linda@jcplin.org.

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