Photo credit: Gideon Haden ChomphosySpending a weekend outdoors can work some magic. How many times have you spent a weekend on the river, at the crag, or on a trail, only to feel refreshed once it’s all said and done?

It doesn’t really make sense. You’ve spent days physically exerting yourself, you’re dirty and aching, and yet you somehow feel invincible. You feel like your batteries are recharged, and all of those problems that accumulated during the work week don’t really matter. You’re more positive, you’re happier, and you feel better able to handle any problem that life might throw your way.

People who get outdoors – whether that means hiking, camping, rock climbing, mountain biking, or all of the above – understand the value of enjoying nature. It is, after all, a blast. But spending time outdoors isn’t just fun. It can improve your physical health, and it can even improve your emotional health.

Ecotherapy refers to, “healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth.” What this basically means is that spending time out in nature can make you feel good. To those of us who love the outdoors, this might sound painfully obvious.

Also known as nature therapy or green therapy, ecotherapy isn’t just about making someone feel better on a superficial level. Some people believe that ecotherapy can be just as effective as traditional therapy or medication for treating depression.

Ecotherapy can benefit your mental and emotional health by improving your mood and reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. It has also been used to treat physical health problems such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and post-cancer fatigue.

It’s not just speculation and wishful thinking of happy campers, though. Ecotherapy studies have shown that spending as little as 5 minutes in nature improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation. There are also universities that offer graduate programs in ecotherapy and ecopsychology.

Is nature a wonder drug? Can ecotherapy cure all of your ailments? It would be extreme to say that ecotherapy will make you skinny, or that it can cure clinical depression, but there’s no doubting that engaging in a healthy outdoor lifestyle is beneficial for your physical and mental health. And while you might not be able to fix all of your problems by walking in the woods, it’s hard to stay down in the dumps when you’re watching the sun rise.

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