Outdoor Experiences – Mental Health Blogging Series

By Daniel Gonzalez (UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County) and Chelsea Jones (Cornell Cooperative Extension Cortland County) 

 We welcome you back to our mental health blogging series. In this edition, we are transitioning from the 4-H Essential Elements and focusing on another important component that contributes to mental health…experiencing the outdoors! 

The greatest influence on your outdoor experience (the weather), is incredibly unpredictable. Especially in Florida, you may be enjoying a beautiful sunny day at 11 A.M., and then experiencing a thunderstorm at 2 P.M. None-the-less, the outdoors are important and play a significant role in the mental health of an individual. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition. The article summed three key points:  

  1. Spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional well-being. 
  2. Feeling connected to nature can produce similar benefits to well-being, regardless of how much time one spends outdoors. 
  3. Both green spaces and blue spaces (aquatic environments) produce well-being benefits. More remote and biodiverse spaces may be particularly helpful, though even urban parks and trees can lead to positive outcomes. 

Providing further directions, the Hagley Museum and Library (a Smithsonian affiliate) mentions that nature improves both your mental and physical health and promotes healthy lifestyles. They referenced a 2019 study in which spending two hours a week in nature is directly tied to significant improvement in health and well-being. How you spend those two hours (working with animals, going for a walk, spending time on the beach, participating in outdoor sports/physical activity) is totally up to you, as long as you get outside in a safe environment. Given the agricultural roots of the Cooperative Extension System, volunteering with your local extension office is a fantastic way to log those “outdoor hours”. Whether it’s serving as a master gardener volunteer, a 4-H volunteer, or taking advantage of outdoor workshops and field-days, volunteering through extension also ensures that you are bettering your community while also bettering yourself. Not to mention, you can volunteer alongside family, friends, and meet new people along the way.  

So, we ask that you consider either embarking or continuing your volunteerism journey through the Cooperative Extension System, available in every U.S. state and territory. Specifically in Florida, if you are interested in becoming volunteer, contact your county extension office today!  

Did you find the above blog useful? Please let us know by completing this brief Qualtrics survey: http://bit.ly/3Jhowd3. This blog is a product of a larger mental health blogging series. If interested in receiving more information, please reach out to Daniel Gonzalez (dangon18@ufl.edu).  

Stay tuned for our next blog in the series this coming February as we wrap up through discussing value! 


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Posted: December 21, 2023

Category: 4-H & Youth, Clubs & Volunteers, Professional Development, Relationships & Family, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Research, UF/IFAS Teaching, Work & Life
Tags: Educators, Mental Health, Volunteers, Youth

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