A reflection on the summer (and the heat)

This squirrel pretty much sums up how we all feel this summer – melted.

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But what’s interesting is that after this summer’s research, I don’t seem to mind the heat as much.  I’ve done many different tasks while being a Parks Research Lab researcher, including sorting through our huge literature database, recruiting health care providers for the Park Rx program, and visiting parks in the Williamsburg area… for science.  All the literature I’ve been reading over comes to the same conclusion, whether it comes to depression or anxiety or obesity or socialization – being outside is so GOOD for you.

Being outside has the obvious benefit of encouraging physical activity, but many scientists have been looking deeper into its effects on mental health.  Why is it that nature decreases stress?  How is it that nature prevents depressive episodes?  These links are still being explored, but even if we don’t know the exact causes, we definitely know the outcome.  Nature can soothe nerves, decrease rumination, improve ADHD symptoms, bring communities closer together, increase concentration, and much more.  And the most fascinating thing I realized from all this research is that it is so easy to integrate into every day life.

Luckily, with the advent of Pokemon GO, I’ve been encouraged to walk around outside, but even before the game was released I’d been making a conscious habit of going outside and appreciating the beauty of W&M’s campus this summer.  I’ve noticed things around campus that I wouldn’t have before (such as funny squirrels like the one above), and I’ve experienced a marked improvement in my mental and physical health.  I eat better foods, I physically feel healthier, and I’m a much happier person.

I guess the take-home message from this post is that research can sometimes feel far-removed, but we’re doing it for a reason.  My research this summer has genuinely changed my way of life for the better, and I can’t wait to see what these final weeks of summer bring my way.

Comments

  1. Abigail, it’s great that you can apply your research to your own life, and I think it is a good point for all of us to keep in mind! My own research does not require any time spent outdoors, and being unaccustomed to Williamsburg summers, it is all too easy for me to succumb to the temptation to hole up inside all day with my laptop. However, I have found through personal experience that just a walk across campus, or even working outside for however long my short battery life will allow, does improve my mood, and consequently, my productivity. While I can definitely identify with the squirrel in the picture, I think we should all heed the science and spend more time outside.

  2. zachoppler says:

    I read several articles regarding the benefits that the outdoors can have on mental health in my abnormal psychology class last semester and it sounds like you found very similar results. I run a lot and was afraid that the Williamsburg heat was going to deter me from getting outside, but I quickly found that I wasn’t nearly as happy running inside at the rec on a treadmill as I was when I ran outside. I think professors should consider holding class outside more frequently (obviously depending on the type of class) and am curious as to whether this would have any potential effects on learning.

  3. Hello!

    I know that I always feel better when the weather is nice and I’m outside so its nice to know that science backs that up as something legitimate! I like that you mentioned PokemonGO. I think its success as a gaming platform using virtual reality but in reality (if that makes sense) is going to spark a lot more games like it. My question for you is that do you think if going outside in the context of playing a virtual reality game will give people some of the same benefits as just, say going outside for a walk or reading on a park bench?

    Sincerely,
    Dana B.