The Benefits of Physical Activity in Nature

Think back to a time you went for a walk in a park or in a forest. Did you breathe in the fresh air and feel tension leave your body?There’s growing evidence that trees, plants and blue skies create an environment that decreases stress, improves mental health and lowers the risks for chronic diseases. 1, 2 Being active in nature can make you happier, healthier and more relaxed! 

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Health, physical activity and nature

According to the 2016 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, only 9 per cent of 5 to 17 year olds are getting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, every day. Current sedentary behaviours compound the issue of physical inactivity. Canadian children and youth spend an average of 8.5 hours per day being sedentary.

Collectively, we spend about 90 per cent of our time indoors and this may increase our risk for sedentary behaviours such as prolonged sitting.3 The constant stimulation we receive from technology use such as phones, tablets and laptops, and our exposure to busy urban environments in concrete settings, do not allow our bodies and brains to rest and recharge. When we are stressed, our levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, go up. A walk in nature has been shown to actually lower cortisol levels as well as increase serotonin levels, which can create a calmer you.4 As simple as it sounds, a nature walk lets our brains recover, restoring attention and creativity. It allows our bodies to become more relaxed and revitalized.

Being exposed to nature enables individuals to take greater control of their own health and well-being. Those with significant needs, including greater stress levels or poorer mental well-being, have been shown to gain the most from their exposure to nature. 5

 

Connecting nature with children and youth has benefits

Students who spend time in nature have been shown to improve academically, have better attention spans, are more physically active, and are better able to cope with everyday life. 6 Nature can also help develop a child’s core observation and problem-solving skills as well as promote their emotional and intellectual development. Children who are allowed to play freely in natural environments are less aggressive and more co-operative. They get along better with friends and are overall happier than children who spend their time indoors. 7

While children play in natural playground, inventing games and using their creativity and imagination to act out stories, parents can relax on benches or connect socially with other parents.

 

From backyards to local parks and forests

Trees swaying in the breeze, clouds drifting in the air and the smell of the natural environment can promote relaxation and rejuvenation. York Region has many places people can go to experience nature. There are over 120 kilometres of trail in 18 York Regional Forest Tracts that can be explored either on your own or on a guided hike. Two forest tracks (North Tract and Hollidge Tract) have accessible trails that are stroller friendly. Conservation Ontario is hosting the Healthy Hikes program in Ontario’s conservation areas. For details about where you can participate in York Region, visit Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority.

If you’re looking for a fun outdoor activity that is a bit more of a challenge for an older child, check out Treetop Trekking at Bruce’s Mill, Kortright Centre of Conservation Events Calendar or participate in the Ontario Parks Learn to Camp program or Parks Canada Learn to Camp.

 

Enjoying year-round nature is easy

Going for a walk in the park or taking a trip to the beach can be an inexpensive and simple outing for the whole family. Even starting an outdoor flower or vegetable garden can be fun and beneficial to well-being. Health benefits can be gained

 

 from spending time outdoors in all seasons. Outdoor walks in spring, summer, fall and even winter, can enhance short-term memory and attention. Be sure to practice sun safety whenever outside. No matter the season, being immersed in nature has a big impact on our physical health and mental well-being and will leave everyone feeling more refreshed to face the everyday challenges of life.8

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 (Image Courtesy of the Regional Municipality of York)

 

Carol Karner, Public Health Nurse 

References

1 Pearson, David and Craig, Tony. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments (2014). Retrieved January 5, 2015 from http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178/full#B6

2 Retrieved January 5, 2015 from http://www.moodwalks.ca

3 Connecting Canadians with Nature, An investment in the well-being of our citizens, page 3 (2014). Retrieved January 5, 2015 from http://www.parks-parcs.ca/english/ConnectingCanadians-English_web.pdf

4 Gordon, Andrea. Weekly ‘mood walks’ are an antidote to anxiety and depression (2014). Retrieved January 5, 2015 from

http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2014/11/07/weekly_mood_walks_are_an_antidote_to_anxiety_and_depression.html  

5 Lines, Elizabeth. The Nurture of Nature: Natural Settings and Their Mental Health Benefits (2013). Retrieved January 5, 2015 from http://www.moodwalks.ca/about-mood-walks/the-nurture-of-nature-natural-settings-and-their-mental-health-benefits/  

6 Connecting Canadians with Nature, An investment in the well-being of our citizens, page 3 (2014). Retrieved January 5, 2015 from http://www.parks-parcs.ca/english/ConnectingCanadians-English_web.pdf

7 Calleja, Dawn. Venture: Why getting kids outside is no walk in the bark (2015). Retrieved January 13, 2015 from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/venture-why-getting-kids-outside-is-no-walk-in-the-bark/article20199130/

 

8 Williams, Florence. Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning (2012). Retrieved January 5, 2015 from http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/wellness/Take-Two-Hours-of-Pine-Forest-and-Call-Me-in-the-Morning.html?page=all

 

 

 

 

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