Get Out, Enjoy Nature During Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and research shows that the benefits of getting outdoors and enjoying nature can directly impact our mental health and overall wellbeing.

Get Out, Enjoy Nature During Mental Health Awareness Month
Fort Mountain State Park, Courtesy: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Getting outside can help us get better sleep, improve concentration and focus, and lower blood pressure.

Here are some great ways to get outside at Georgia State Parks and improve your mental health in the process.

Forest Bathing

You’ve tried taking a walk, a hike, a jog or a bike ride — but what about just simply taking time to sit or walk and reconnect with Mother Nature?

The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, also known as Forest Bathing, is becoming more important than ever before. Forest Bathing broadly means taking in, in all of one’s senses, the forest atmosphere.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, “Not simply a walk in the woods, it is the conscious and contemplative practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest.”

Recent studies have reported that Forest Bathing is “strongly linked to lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones and decreased anxiety, depression and fatigue.” All things many Americans are struggling with now as the pandemic continues. Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites provide the perfect escapes to begin the practice of Forest Bathing.  

Wellness on the Water  

If you find that you are calmer when you are around water, it is not your imagination! Water has a meditative quality and according to Dr. Mathew White, an environmental psychologist with BlueHealth, a psychologically restorative effect. “White says spending time in and around aquatic environments has consistently been shown to lead to significantly higher benefits, in inducing positive mood and reducing negative mood and stress, than green space does.” 

Georgia State Parks has water activities galore. Here are some of our favorite park activities:

Visit Lake Martin, Alabama and enjoy their awesome 40,000 acres of lake — and many other activities too! Red Top Mountain State Park is another awesome waterfront location with access to Lake Allatoona. Or head up to the mountains and check out Lake Blue Ridge while you’re there!

Get Out, Get Moving 

We all know that exercise is related to improvement in both mental and physical health, but particularly when it is done outside. Studies have shown that physical activity outdoors lowers a person’s blood pressure and heart rate. As a result, exercise outdoors feels less strenuous than similar exercise indoors, which, in turn, pushes you closer to your maximum performance.

Breathe in the fresh air, bask in the sunshine, and enjoy a change of scenery and the surrounding nature. While each state park offers opportunities to exercise including bike trails, hiking trails, etc., parks such as Panola Mountain, Jack Hill, Sweetwater Creek, F.D. Roosevelt, Don Carter and Skidaway Island have even added outdoor fitness equipment, making it easier for you to get out and work out. 

Research points to two hours a week as the ideal minimum to get outdoors. Participants were more likely to report good health or well-being after least 120 minutes of exposure to nature in a week. And it didn’t matter if this was a continuous stretch of time or not. The benefits appear to be the same even if the 120 minutes occurs in smaller blocks of time over the week. 

So, next time you find yourself with a free morning, afternoon, or weekend, plan a visit to Georgia’s State Parks and take advantage of all the mental and physical health benefits of getting outdoors, while having a blast!  

Choose from over 60 parks as the basecamp for your next Georgia exploration and uncover hidden gems and miles and miles of winding trails and wide-open spaces perfect for a mid-week or weekend trip off the beaten path. Escape for a weekend and book a cottage, cabin, or yurt, or maximize your time outside by setting up camp.

Great Hikes to Get Started

Looking for some great hikes to get you outside and enjoying nature? Here are some of our favorites!

Combine both water and hiking, with these 5 Easy Georgia Waterfall Hikes Your Family Will Love.

Get out and explore a new location with one of these 52 Atlanta-Area Destination Hikes You’re Sure to Fall in Love With.

Here are 9 Amazing Things to do in Bryson City, North Carolina for Outdoor Lovers!

And if you’re just getting started, or have young ones with you, try one of these 125+ Best Places for Hiking in Georgia (Kids and Beginners)!