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BENEFITS OF BEING OUTDOORS Week 2: Water and Mental Health

What is your favorite way to spend time outdoors? Do you like to garden? Walk your dog? Go camping or hiking? Spend time at a beach or lake? These are just a few examples of how we like to enjoy the outdoors.

It turns out, being outside is better for our mental health than our physical health and being near water can actually decrease our levels of anxiety, depression and anger while increasing our brain to experience more empathy, self-awareness and positive emotions. These are the building blocks for making us happier in our lives as a whole.

According to a study done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, more than 50% of people live in an urban environment and by 2050 researchers predict that 70% of people will move to more urban areas. This same study showed an increase in mood disorders within these urban areas.

With so many people working from home now, the less commuting and walking can be detrimental to our mental health. Walking in an urban area is still better than staying sedentary, but the above study showed a significant change in negative self-thought from those who went on a 90-minute walk through a wooded area on a regular basis. Those who spent time near a water feature had even better results.

Water has an effect on the brain similar to meditation. In water, the neurotransmitters that relay stress to the brain, catecholamine neurotransmitters, are actually adjusted and will give you a more Zen-like feeling of calm, peace and harmony. This can help reduce stress and anxiety in the brain and allow the body to relax. Have you ever noticed how your brain and body react when you are near a fountain, pond, running rapids or a waterfall? Check in with your body the next time you come across one of these water features and see how your mind and body shift into a calmer state.

Running water can reduce the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol which are present in many chronic health diseases. Reducing these hormones also reduces anxiety and depressive states.

Water also releases negatively charged ions into the air and that combats those free radicals which then purifies the air. The boosted negative ions can increase your serotonin levels which will also lower stress and depression. Your energy, alertness and concentration will all increase when you are near water.

Being outdoors can lift your mood and lower anxiety as well as increase your immunity. Those who spend more time in nature have shown better cognitive functions and positive moods. Nature has a way of improving focus and creativity as well as helping lower anxiety and depression.

One of the ways nature does this is by offering less stimuli around us and fewer things calling for our attention. When you can be in this state, you can fully relax your mind, body and soul. Humans need to feel connected to the natural world and being outside helps us tune into ourselves and our needs.

According to Dr. Lynne M. Kostiuk, a Registered Psychologist, “Nature goes at a completely different pace than what we’ve created for ourselves nowadays,” she says. “It slows us down, lets us pay attention to different things, and let go of others. It gives us a chance to just enjoy ‘being’.”

The easiest way to do this is to find a body of water near you and sit next to it. Ponds, lakes, streams, waterfalls, fountains and even a backyard mini fountain can all increase your happy meter. Urban fountains with spouting water are engineered to mimic nature, but also create some fun and playfulness for your mind to relax. Ponds, lakes and oceans can help you focus on the waves coming in and out giving you a deep meditative feel. It is so easy to lose yourself in listening to the waves and watching them for a time and just ‘being’ with the water.

There is a difference between ‘being’ and ‘doing’ that should be distinguished. Our society associates our worth with ‘doing’, from our financial rewards to status. The problem is, we are always ‘doing’ and always working hard. This is what increases our stress levels and drains us of our energy. Nature can help counter act this working hard and ‘doing’ mentality by slowing us down. We are able to reconnect to the sense of ‘being’ and that is where your rest and digest hormones will kick in so you can reset and de-stress.

Doctors around the globe are now prescribing “green prescriptions” encouraging their patients to get outdoors instead of taking an over-the-counter anxiety medication. They are learning that the hundreds of studies showing the positive affects of being in nature, really can benefit their patient’s psychological wellness.

There are 27 American states that are landlocked with no ocean shore and some have very little lakes, reservoirs or streams so many cities are looking for other ways to bring the “blue” space to their locations to deliver health benefits to their people.

Many cities have looked toward creating amazing and intricate fountains in their cities. Lining them with tables, umbrellas and entertainment to help people come out of their homes and enjoy the outdoors, while still being in an urban environment. In fact, some experiments around the USA found that water features lessened the traffic noise in the area and reduced stress in the people who lived in those areas or frequented the park on a regular basis.

The research also showed that people were more active in environments with access to water. Even riding a bike around a park with a lake or taking a paddle board or inner tube to a lake or reservoir pushed people to move their bodies more.

Researchers also noticed that the soft visual stimuli of the light reflecting off the water will hold our attention without any effort and can instinctively calm us down. This allows our brains to recover easier, especially from cognitive fatigue. The idea is called Attention Restoration Theory and suggests that the fascination of the natural environment is a critical cue in the process of psychological restoration. Why do you think so many executives choose a beach vacation versus a mountain vacation?

Recent research has shown amazing results using blue care interventions like swimming, sailing, kayaking, fishing or going to a beach to help treat those with PTSD, addiction, panic disorders and depression. The studies found that blue care interventions created direct benefits for their overall health including physical and mental health.

The best part, you can create your very own water oasis in your home, backyard or patio for little to no cost. That way you can enjoy the benefits of water on a daily basis. The sound of running water can increase your happy meter and create more productivity and creativity in your life.

Water is one of the top features that were tested in the research to help promote more positive mental health. Exposing yourself to more nature can increase positive thoughts, promote more spiritual joy and induce psychological restoration. In fact, a recent study found that men and women who spent just 20 minutes in a par setting reported an increase of over 64% in life satisfaction. The best part, they didn’t do anything but just sit and enjoy the space they were in.

There are some great DIY fountain ideas on YouTube and Pinterest that you can do in your own backyard for little money;

Not only will this add ambiance to your home, yard or patio, but it will also promote calmness, focus, creativity and better sleep. Creating a ‘blue-mind’ can bring about a sense of peacefulness, unity, happiness and joyfulness boosting overall life satisfaction.

What is your favorite way to incorporate water into your life?


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