“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
– John Muir (1838-1914), Naturalist, “Father of the National Parks”
Spending time in nature is a great way to relax and reconnect with your inner self. Did you know that Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park is the largest landscaped urban park in the world? Its system of 63 parks occupies nearly 9,600 acres. That’s a lot of space to enjoy the outdoors.
And Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, which manages all the parks in the city, offers a roster of activities that’s just as impressive.
The Power of Parks
As Muir stated, being in nature, among trees, woods, and rivers, has powerful effects on our well-being. Parks are places of serenity that lift our spirits, inspire creativity, and provide quiet spaces for reflection.
In addition to the parks, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation manages more than 150 recreational centers where people of all ages and abilities can connect while participating in healthy indoor and outdoor activities.
“Whether you’re five years old or 65 years old, that shared sense of community is valuable,” says Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “Parks & Rec is among the city’s most valued services because it connects us to green space, to coaches and mentors, and to each other with activities that promote both our physical and mental health.”
Good for Your Body and Your Mind
Being outdoors — whether playing sports, exploring trails, or enjoying a picnic — is a great way to support mental health and wellness. And, in most cases, it’s no- or low-cost.
“The physiological response to being outside in nature is real, and it’s measurable,” says Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service. Studies show that being in nature reduces stress, cortisol levels, muscle tension, and heart rate – all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Being in nature is also restorative. It can help us unwind, relax, and refocus.
Build Your Social Network Outdoors, Not Online
Sometimes, being outside can lead to unexpected connections.
Teenagers, for example, are often a hard-to-reach group that faces a lot of mental health challenges. But Ott Lovell said that connecting with teens can be as simple as walking in the park. “Some rec centers host teen walking clubs where participants share things with group leaders that they might not have said face-to-face or indoors. When they were walking along the trail, teens were more willing to engage in real conversations about important issues,” Ott Lovell said.
Something for Everyone
Whether you’re into biking, hiking, or learning about local plants and trees, there are hundreds of healthy activities sponsored by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation that can boost your mood. Other offerings include swimming sites for Philadelphians with physical disabilities, a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities for seniors (including the popular Philadelphia Senior Games), and a week-long summer camp in the Pocono Mountains for city youth.
Sheep Shearing Day at Fox Chase Farm? Coffee with the Birds at Wissahickon Environmental Education Center? A summer job as a lifeguard? Volunteering at a community garden? Sign us up!
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.
Original photo: Daniel Knoll for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®