ecstasy outdoors: nature, the ultimate endorphin

ecstasy outdoors: nature, the ultimate endorphin


I think we all have experienced it whether consciously or unconsciously, feeling relaxed, empowered, energized, or well just altered from being in nature. Turns out science is endeavoring to explain how and why.  A growing body of empirical evidence is showing us the value of experiencing nature for mental health.

With the steady urbanization and declines in human contact with nature all around the world, crucial decisions must be made about how to preserve and enhance opportunities for experiencing nature. There is a strong consensus across the natural, social, and health sciences academia on the impacts of nature experience on cognitive functioning, emotional well-being, and various dimensions of mental health.[1]

Human well-being is so deeply linked to our natural environment that our vary survival depends on our relationship to it, from circadian rhythm to our diet, wellness and how we treat the planet.


Research in a growing scientific field known as ecotherapy is showing a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

In a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who walked in nature had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination, when we dwell or think repetitively about negative emotions. According to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. "When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts,"[2]


Ever been to a spa for a massage? or downloaded an app to help calm the mind? maybe some cascading water sounds, rain, tree's or whatever it is that put your mind at rest. Well, listening to nature or even seeing photos of nature can also help calm the mind. 


Exercising outdoors – such as hiking, running, biking and kayaking – increases the production of endorphins. Like serotonin, these neurotransmitters are mood boosters. They create the ecstasy like sensation often referred to as “runner’s high.” Higher endorphin levels can leave you feeling calm and clear-headed. In addition to affecting neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins, which help you relax, being outdoors exposes you to natural light. Light exposure, in turn, affects the hormone melatonin. When we’re in sunlight, the melatonin in our bodies decreases. This helps us wake up in the morning. In the absence of sunlight, our melatonin levels rise, making us sleepy or lethargic. Getting sunlight at the right time of day can lead to a better night’s sleep.[3]

Another study looked at the Japanese tradition of forest bathing, or “Shinrinyoku.” That’s the practice of making short, leisurely visits to a forest. The research demonstrated that a forest bathing trip may significantly reduce anxiety, depression and anger, among other benefits.[3]

Go outside and get "your juices flowing"

[1] Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective 

[2] Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature

[3] 5 Ways Mother Nature Can Lift Your Mood

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published