If prioritising your mental health isn’t already on your radar, it’s time to give it some more attention. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that over 2 in 5 Australians aged 16-85 will experience a mental health challenge at some point in their life, with 1 in 5 estimated to have experienced difficulties within the past 12 months.
These statistics point to the rising prevalence of mental health challenges that require significant and sustainable treatments – but even if you’re not in these groups, looking after your mental health can significantly influence your overall health and wellbeing in various ways.
Thankfully, one powerful tool for supporting our mental health is free, often readily available, and flexible to suit all manner of preferences: time in nature. Spending time outdoors can significantly benefit our mental health, offering us one way to achieve a higher quality of life on a daily basis.
For people living with disability, community support networks can help you spend more time outside in order to access these natural benefits.
How time outdoors can improve our mental wellbeing
If you find you feel better after a trip to the park, you’re not just imagining it: time spent outdoors has proven benefits for our mental health.
‘From a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation,’ reports the American Psychological Association.
This is also supported by research from the Mental Health Foundation, which notes that evidence shows that the quality of our relationship with nature directly impacts its ability to positively impact our wellbeing, with researchers using the term ‘connectedness’ to point to the ideal relationship. By forming a strong connection with nature, we can gain further benefits from the time we spend in the fresh air.
Some of the many benefits nature can offer our mental health include:
- Cognitive benefits: spending time in nature can help to calm busy and full brains, as well as improve working memory, build cognitive flexibility, and contribute to better control over where our attention is placed
- Increased happiness and sense of wellbeing: time outdoors can have a positive effect on our sense of self, meaning, and purpose in life, as well as directly helping to decrease mental distress
- Benefits for our physical health: as our physical health and mental health are heavily correlated, time spent moving around in fresh air can help to improve our physical health and wellbeing, having a flow-on effect on our mental health quality
- Lowered blood pressure and stress hormone levels: time in the great outdoors can directly contribute to lowered stress levels, helping to promote calm and lift moods
Overcoming barriers to accessibility
There may be particular barriers to access when it comes to engaging with a wide range of outdoor spaces. When public natural spaces aren’t equipped with inclusion at the forefront of design, or have a lack of accessible routes, this can create barriers for those living with disability to make the most of natural environments in their local region.
Thankfully, for those of us local to Adelaide, there are a number of national parks and walking trails with nature spaces designed for wheelchair accessibility. Our Lifestyle Attendants, who provide community support for our customers, are always ready to assist when it comes to spending more time outside – whether you’re looking to discover a new walking track, spend time in a local park, or simply enjoy the sunshine in your backyard, we’re eager to join you.
Tips for building more time outdoors into your daily routine
With so many benefits to our mental health coming from spending time outside, it’s important to look for ways to easily integrate nature into your daily routine. Our tips are:
- Start your day with some fresh air. Are you used to having your morning coffee inside? Consider taking it into the yard, onto the balcony, or even sitting by a window where the sun can reach you. A few minutes of fresh air can make a big difference in how your day begins.
- Find outdoor spaces you enjoy. Even if you’ve lived in the same area for some time, you may have overlooked beautiful outdoor spaces that are free for public use. Take a look at local council listings, community groups, or recommended outdoor hot spots to find new places you could enjoy with the support of our Lifestyle Attendants.
- Take up an outdoor-related hobby. What’s better than doing one enjoyable thing? Doing two enjoyable things at once! By taking up a hobby that you can do outdoors, you can make the most of the sunshine while doing something you love. Gardening, of course, is one obvious hobby that could have a major impact on your mental health.
- Set a daily goal. By prioritising time outside, you can track how consistently you’re making the most of nature’s healing powers. 20-30 minutes is a great goal to benefit from time spent outdoors on a daily basis.
- Take social activities outdoors. Do you tend to spend time with friends at coffee shops or indoors at home? Look at ways you can turn social time into time spent with nature. Accessible walking tracks, picnics at beautiful local parks, and even catching up in your garden or on your patio can give you more opportunities.
By prioritising the time you spend outdoors and incorporating small tweaks into your daily routine, you can gain the many benefits nature offers to your mental well-being. Over time, that sense of connectedness is also likely to grow, creating even more joy in the time you spend in the fresh air.
Supporting your mental health is one of the best ways you can support your overall health and wellbeing. Our Lifestyle Attendants provide community support to help you enjoy more activities outside. Plus, our Support Coordinators and Psychosocial Recovery Coaches are ready to help you build more outdoor activities into your routine. Submit a service enquiry here, or if you’re already a customer, chat with us about boosting your nature time – we’re always up for an adventure!