Mountain Experiences Improve Mental Well-Being
Many of us seek time in the great outdoors, trading our hectic routines for brief escapes into nature. These experiences, in our parks and wildland areas, permit a sense of calm and relaxation often missing from busy urban life. Inclusion in nature may be especially beneficial to those coping with stress-inducing disabilities or traumatic experiences. The recognized health benefits of outdoor recreation, along with a desire to promote the broad inclusion of people in park communities, have led to the development of therapeutic nature programs in our mountain spaces.
Researchers from Mount Royal University and Alberta Environment and Parks have studied the effects of two therapeutic mountain leisure programs on the mental well-being of adults with disabilities and their caregivers. The programs included group day trips and longer backcountry excursions to the Canadian Rocky Mountains by the Push to Open Nature Society and the Alberta Adaptive Nature Challenge. Researchers surveyed program participants both before and after their experiences to assess their mood and quality of life. They found that nature activities tended to reduce depression, improve social relationships, and increase satisfaction with personal health and sense of community. Participants also described strong sensory experiences (for example, being relaxed by the sound of water), reimagined social relations between care givers and receivers, and a greater or renewed sense of self through personal reflection. These findings show how nature can be used as a tool to improve mental well-being, and remind us that we can all benefit from a little more time outside.
This is a summary article authored by Charlie Loewen. For further information, please see the original published research:
Sonya L. Jakubec, Don Carruthers Den Hoed, Heather Ray & Ashok Krishnamurthy (2016) Mental well-being and quality-of-life benefits of inclusion in nature for adults with disabilities and their caregivers. Landscape Research, 41:616–627 (doi:10.1080/01426397.2016.1197190).