If youâ€™ve been feeling blue, youâ€™re not alone. Every year, more than 14 million Americans experience a major depressive disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association. On top of that, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects an estimated 10 million people yearly, and even 10 to 20 percent more of the population experiences a mild form of SAD.
These statistics are, well, depressing. But the good news is that one of the best forms of treatment is right outside your door. In a study published earlier this year, Stanford researchers found thatÂ uninterrupted nature walksÂ were markedly more beneficial to mental well-being than other conventional mood boosters such as talking with a close friend or working on a hobby.
Itâ€™s called ecotherapy, and the effects are amazing. You know that frustrating topic you canâ€™t get out of your head, keeping you up at night? Itâ€™s called rumination. And nature walks are especially effective at combating it. Instead of distracting ourselves from our frustrations, ecotherapy allows us to enter a nature-induced, meditative-like state. Studies show that outdoor activitiesÂ begin building self-esteem and boosting endorphinsÂ in less than five minutes. Just a five-minute walk can actually turn your entire day around. Now if that doesnâ€™t cheer you up, we suggest putting on your hiking shoes immediately.
Just like the first five minutes of exercise are the hardest, finding the time and the right spot to enjoy nature can often be a daunting task that keeps us from forming healthy habits. Hereâ€™s a list of outdoor activities to try this summer, both in your hometown and while away on summer vacation to get you out of the hotel gym and into new natural settings that are sure to take your happiness levels to new heights.
Thereâ€™s nothing quite like being in a kayak with nothing but a paddle and your sense of balance. Itâ€™s one of the best mood-boosting activities because itâ€™s individually challenging as well as a communal activity. This option doesn't require much of an investment;Â you can get canoes and kayaksÂ starting at less than $250, which is what most of us spend in less than six months on a gym membership.
Go hiking or on a walk alone or with others, it doesnâ€™t matter. You get great benefits from both. All you need is a good pair of shoes, some water and donâ€™t forget the sunscreen. Nothing combats the feel-good effects of being outside like a sunburn and sun damage. Include pets for a mood-boosting double whammy, just make sure itâ€™s not too hot for your sweet little fur baby. An early morning hike is a great idea in the summer so you can beat the afternoon heat and set the tone for a positive day.
Golfing and Frolfing
The benefits of learning a skill while being outside can exponentially boost feel-good feelings because not only are we soaking up sunshine and fresh air, we are building positive self-esteem. Golf is a game that requires patience and focus, two attributes that we could all stand to work on. Frolf, or frisbee golf, is a similar, yet slightly more hipster version of golf. Unlike expensive golf clubs, shoes and greens fees, frolf only requires a $20 hard plastic disc and a bit of patience.
Everyone has at least one sport they enjoyed as a kid. Whether it's a kickball game once a month with college friends or a weekly basketball game at the local park, recreational team sports are inexpensive (usually less that $50 per season) and one of the best ways to remind you to get outside and get active on a regular basis. Rediscover an old favorite sport or try one you've always been curious about. Eventually, you'll find an outlet that you truly enjoy and doesn't feel like a chore, but a much-needed stress release.