Why is getting outdoors important for your mental health?
It's Mental Health Awareness Week this week, so some of the team here at the NZ Mountain Safety Council reflect on why getting outdoors is important for their mental health.
Whether it be to escape the city life, disconnect from technology or to give the kids the experience of exploring, everyone has their own reason why the outdoors is an important aspect of positive mental health.
Living in the city with screens, timelines and transport every day, I really rely on having a trip in the outdoors to look forward to as it encourages me to stop and restart my brain away from all those distractions. Anything from major annual hunting trips, bach breaks out of signal, to even a local bush walk, these make a huge difference to my mental health. Luckily there are plenty of options to choose from in this country!
Just this week, my wife and I were reflecting on how being in the bush is so good for us and how incredible the kids are when we’re there - it’s quite different from playing outside on a playground or in the backyard. When they’re immersed in nature, we’ve noticed that there are fewer fights, increased curiosity and imagination, and sincere joy when they discover something new on their explorations.
And for us, walking through the bush isn't just about positive exercise, it also calms our minds, nourishes our souls and clarifies our thoughts. It’s a place where our best conversations happen and where we take notice of the things in life which we truly value.
I would go as far as saying that spending time outdoors is necessary for my mental health. Whenever I’m not feeling my best, it’s my first port of call in order to clear my head and give myself a boost to tackle whatever I’m dealing with. In particular, moments of solitude with the background noise of the outdoors (birds singing, rivers flowing, waves breaking, glaciers cracking, leaves in the wind, rain on my jacket) have had a remarkably calming effect on me.
At times in life, I have lived and worked in places that many would consider mentally daunting. Immersing myself in the soundtrack of the outdoors is the common thread that enabled me to cope well in those times, and I will certainly look for it to do the same in the future.
What I like most about going into the outdoors on my mountain bike is being in the ‘here and now’. All other thoughts fade to the background and I go into full focus mode. While mountain biking, there simply is no time for other thoughts.
In a world dominated by digital technology and screen time - Netflix, mobile phones, emails, Zoom meetings – nothing beats the physical and emotional benefits of getting outdoors. I find that even the simplest of bush walks provides a great ‘battery’ recharge.
Juggling the demands of working, young kids, family, and all of the pressures of modern-day life can take its toll on your mental health. There’s no shame in this, and having some simple strategies to help with this can make the world of difference.
Personally, I love to get out with the kids and teach them about the natural world, looking for new fungi, bugs, or weird trees. It’s not about how far we walk, it’s all about the quality time, disconnecting from modern-day stress and reconnecting with the simple things that matter.
Sometimes I forget the importance of fresh air and exercise when life is busy or I'm dealing with something challenging. The motivation to get out there, even just for half an hour, can be hard to find but when I do, it's a huge boost and I'm always glad I did it. Even if it's just a walk around the block, or a nice bush walk, it all counts!
This year's Mental Health Awareness Week's theme is ‘Ma te Korero, Te Ora – take time to korero’ and is all about connecting with the people in our lives and creating space for conversations about mental health and wellbeing. Whether it’s checking in with a mate, having a kōrero or saying hello to a stranger, a little chat can go a long way. Visit the website for more ideas and tips on how to have a safe and supportive kōrero.