When was the last time you spent time outside in nature, listening to the sounds of the wildlife and the rustling of leaves, breathing the fresh outdoor air, or feeling the snow, sun or breeze on your skin? Do you remember feeling more calm, relaxed or focused afterward? If so, you’ll likely agree with the research that shows that time in nature has significant benefits for our mental health.
For many of us with busy, urban lifestyles, contact with nature is not a regular experience. Our routines and activities leave us cut off from our environment and from our own well-being. City life and 24/7 access to technology can lead to on-going stress and stimulation, forcing us to be constantly filtering information, avoiding distractions and making decisions. We are often left with little time to recover and regain a balanced state.
The current COVID-19 situation has added anxiety and stress to many people’s lives. However, the reduction in activity due to physical distancing has allowed for slower schedules and more available time, providing the perfect opportunity to wander outdoors and rest our minds.
Within minutes of exposure to nature, stress is relieved, shown by changes to muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity. The prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command centre, gets a chance to dial down and take a break. The level of the stress hormone, cortisol, is reduced. Finally, endorphin levels and dopamine production increase, promoting happiness. These biochemical changes bring the following benefits:
- Increased energy and feelings of vitality
- Positive mood
- Decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress, and of associated physical symptoms (headaches, indigestion)
- Improved attention and concentration; decreased symptoms of ADHD
- Increased creativity
- Reduced rumination
- Increased social contact, empathy and altruism
- Better quality of sleep
We often associate trees and fresh air with a trip outside the city, but accessing nature doesn’t have to involve that much time or commitment! Here are 7 simple ideas to help you easily enjoy the mental and physical benefits of the outdoors — all in and around the Heron Park community:
- Take a walk or bike ride on the paved pathway that runs along Sawmill Creek, near the Aviation Parkway (access from Brookfield Rd. E. and Junction Ave.).
- Check out the unmaintained walking path on a former rail line that runs between Bank St. and Kaladar Ave. (between Canadian Tire and the buildings on Kaladar Ave).
- Play a game of tennis at Kaladar Park, basketball or baseball at Heron Park, or soccer or frisbee in Bruce Timmerman Park
- If you are caring for kids, take them for water play at the splash pad at Kaladar Park (Kaladar Ave. and Traverse Dr.) or to the wading pool at Heron Park (Clover St. and Heron Rd.)
- Enjoy a walk and view of the waterfalls at Hog’s Back Park.
- Relax with a picnic by the water at Mooney’s Bay Park and Beach.
- Take a stroll through the Heron Park community orchard and soak in the sights and smells of the herbs, flowers and trees planted by community volunteers (entrance off Clover St. and Aldea Ave).
For information on enjoying nature safely during COVID-19, visit the City of Ottawa’s Parks and Greenspace page.
Now, get outside and enjoy!
Author: J.M. Claire Sales
J.M. Claire Sales is a resident of Heron Park and provides counselling and psychotherapy services to individuals looking to improve their well-being or manage mental health challenges.
For more information, visit www.jmclairesales.com
Faber Taylor, A., Kuo, M., and Sullivan, W. (2001). Coping with ADD. The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings. Environment and Behavior 33(1):54-77. January 2001. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249624329_Coping_with_ADD_The_Surprising_Connection_to_Green_Play_Settings
Huynh, Q., Craig, W., Janssen, I., and Pickett W. (2013). Exposure to Public Natural Space as a Protective Factor for Emotional Well-Being Among Young People in Canada. BMC Public Health 13,407. Retrieved from: https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-407
Marselle, M., Irvine, K., and Warber, S. (2014). Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study. Ecopsychology 6(3):134 September 2014. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270448533_Examining_Group_Walks_in_Nature_and_Multiple_Aspects_of_Well-Being_A_Large-Scale_Study
Ontario Parks (2020). Mental Health Benefits of the Outdoors. Parks Blog. Retrieved from: https://www.ontarioparks.com/parksblog/mental-health-benefits-outdoors/