Feeling down? An outdoor trip may be what the doctor orders

By Janean Sorrell, Mar. 1, 2022

Our neighbor to the north has a new prescription to help combat mental health issues – a trip to a national park, historic site or marine conservation area. On Jan. 30, Canada launched its new program PaRX, an initiative to help improve health by prescribing time out in nature.

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, up to 44% of college students have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression and 20% of college students say that their mental health as significantly worsened since COVID -19. Members of the Cal Poly Pomona community discussed the benefits that a trip outdoors can lend.

“Nature can be so tranquil with the wind, ocean or streams; it allows you to be still in your own mind,” said Zane Landin, communication student and CEO of Positive Vibes magazine. “Nature allows you to reflect on everything that’s going on.”

Recent medical studies have highlighted positive health benefits of connecting with nature. In one study, researchers found that spending time in nature can lower stress hormones and heart rate variability, the amount of time the heartbeat fluctuates. Another study found spending time in nature along with exercising was found to increase self-esteem among children.

“Outdoor activities are vital to mental health,” said Ian Navarro, ASI adventures education manager. “It helps (people) connect with something larger than themselves.”

According to ASI’s website, Broncos Get Outdoors, being outside can: “improve attention, creativity and restores mental energy; relieve stress and anxiety; reduce symptoms of depression and ADHD; boost the immune system and Vitamin D.”

Navarro added that getting outdoors does not have to be expensive or challenging.

“It doesn’t have to take a lot of time in order to get the benefits of getting outside,” said Navarro. “If a student is looking for more resources for outdoor adventure, they can stop by the Bronco Peak and talk to the adventure staff.”

Such resources could benefit students, as the pandemic has also led to a sharp increase in depression and anxiety. A recent study found that depression rose 28% above pre-pandemic levels; anxiety increased by 26%.

“If you are starting to experience stress, don’t let it pile up,” said Landin. “There are plenty of resources available, suicide prevention, CAPS, your professors, friends.”

There’s not just mental health benefits from being outdoors. According to Christopher Stoughton, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, people who spend more time outside in nature are more apt to protecting it.

“As more and more people become disconnected from the environment, more and more people don’t understand the importance of protecting the environment,” said Stoughton. “They don’t have that intimate relationship with the environment.”

An increased use of computers, smartphones, televisions and other technology could be to blame for a lack of connection to the environment, according a 2017 study.

The study conducted by The Nature of Americans National Report found that the American public has become disconnected with nature, the outdoors and wildlife. The report states, “these pose a nationwide problem since human health and well-being depend on beneficial contact with nature.”
According to Stoughton, it’s important for everyone to educate themselves on nature whether by reading a book, taking a class or joining a club on campus. There are multiple ways to get involved in reconnecting with nature.

However, Canada is not the only country prescribing nature for benefits. The U.S. created the ParkRx movement in October 2013, after a 2012 conference hosted by the Institute at the Golden Gate and the National Recreation and Parks Association, brought together a group of practitioners to examine a new trend of prescribing nature to help improve both mental and physical health.

“Nature is very grounding; she could teach you a lot of hard lessons that are likely to stick with you for a lifetime,” said Navarro. “It’s also a space and place where friendships and bonds can be created quickly.”

Featured image courtesy of Janean Sorrell.