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Outdoor physical activity: a natural mood-booster

March 13, 2014

Ontario ForestWith spring just around the corner, there’s no better time to start being active outdoors. A growing body of evidence shows that outdoor physical activity not only improves mood and enhances well-being, but relieves stress and improves memory.

Recent studies by Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet show that our experiences in nature, including how comfortable we are in nature and how much time we spend there, influence our well-being. Individuals with a strong sense of connection to nature report more happiness than those who are less connected. Richard Louv, in his book “Last Child in the Woods,” notes that lack of time outdoors is linked to rising rates of depression, attention deficit disorder, Vitamin D deficiency, obesity and other health conditions.

Canadian researcher Marc Berman adds to the evidence through his Attention Restoration Theory (ART). His studies show that we naturally relax when we’re surrounded by nature and that our attention becomes focused on our surroundings: a process that’s energizing, rejuvenating and refreshing.

Most of us live busy lives and finding the time for outdoor recreation can be challenging. However, we can incorporate outdoor physical activity into our daily routines by enjoying local parks and trails, going for a power walk at lunch, walking or biking to and from work and spending time with the family outdoors. Making physical activity a part of our day makes it easier to get the amount that we need to stay healthy.

Additionally, CMHA Ontario programs promote physical activity outdoors. Mood Walks reduces barriers and creates opportunities for older adults living with mental health conditions to be physically active. Mood Walks works in partnership with mental health agencies as well as Hike Ontario and Conservation Ontario to launch new walking programs, connect individuals with local hiking clubs, and improve access to parks, hiking trails, conservation areas, and other resources in the community.

Mood Walks is linked to Conservation Ontario’s Healthy Hikes Challenge. Healthy Hikes takes place from May 1 to October 31, 2014 and encourages Ontarians to spend time hiking in the 270 conservation areas available in the province. The program also gives participants the opportunities to track their progress online for a chance to win great prizes.

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