Nature walks can help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression

 Those suffering from a mental illness shouldn’t have to just grin and bear it. There are many different options for treatment.

Prescriptions, alternative medicine, diet, exercise. Different treatments work for different people, and there is no right or wrong way to survive each day.

One proven (and free) treatment is just to walk outside. Studies have shown that interacting with nature can improve cognition for individuals with depression and that proximity to green space has been associated with lower levels of stress.

This is what Caitlin Renton of West Bloomfield does to combat her anxiety. 

A few years ago, Renton began taking nature walks on a regular basis after she realized it helped her get through her week.

"Taking a stroll through the woods calms my nerves, even on trails I've walked a million times," she said.

Kensington Metropark, 4570 Huron River Parkway, Milford, is one of Renton's favorite getaways.

"It's so big, so there are always new places to explore and I never get sick of it. I love seeing the sandhill cranes that are always there because they're not afraid of people, and the chipmunks will eat right out of your hand," she said. 

"It calms me, being able to peacefully co-exist with the wild animals."

She said that animals, whether wild or pets, are wonderful therapy. 

"When an animal like a duck or goose acknowledges me without being afraid, it puts a smile on my face," she said. "And, when I'm having a bad day, my cats and dog always cheer me up. Without a doubt, they know when I'm upset and they try to make me feel better."

Here are some other health benefits associated with going outside, according to research: 
  • Improved attention span
  • Increased Vitamin D production
  • Lower heart rate
  • Boost in serotonin 
  • Improved sleep
So take a page from Renton's book, and get outside! 

"People who are suffering from anxiety could greatly benefit from taking nature walks because it can satisfy their curiosity and take their mind off things. Instead of nitpicking and obsessing over something that didn't go right, they might actually focus on the now."

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