Bird Watching Mental Health
It may be surprising to learn that birding comes with quite a few health benefits. So let’s explore that and hopefully get more people interested in birding.
Have you ever noticed that your mood improves when you’re outdoors? That’s because you are likely moving around and thus taking deeper breaths of fresh air. And in turn, supplies all the cells in your body with oxygen. It has been thought that oxygen affects levels of serotonin released in the body.
It also boosts energy and clears your mind. What’s more, is that these feel-good chemicals stick around long after you’ve been outdoors, as long as 12 hours! After a lot of birding takes place in forested areas with all kinds of scents lingering in the air such as the lovely smell of pine, turns out that these airborne chemicals that plants and trees emit may help with stress reduction.
A 2008 study, had participants spend time walking in a forest and city areas. What they discovered was that participants showed more physical signs of relaxation including lower blood pressure and lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. When they spent time in the forest rather than in the city.
In my experience, the smell of trees and plants certainly seems to have a calming effect. There really is a difference between walking in the forest and walking in the city. When we are outside we also get a good dose of vitamin D provided the Sun is out. Just a half-hour outside can give you all of your body’s daily needs for this vitamin and since our bodies can’t make it itself, we have to get it in our food or from the Sun.
Vitamin D is really important for overall physical health and that includes our brains. It’s been linked with lowering depression and anxiety. Of course, don’t stay out in the Sun for too long! Always be sure to practice sun safety. Wearing a hat, sunscreen or staying in the shade.
People who live in more northerly climates or areas that are frequently overcast, like me, getting enough vitamin D in winter can be very tough. So when the Sun is out on a winter day try to take advantage of that. If you have problems falling asleep and staying asleep at night, walking in nature, such as birding, can relieve insomnia.
It’s been shown that soaking in morning daylight 15 minutes or more every day at the same time can help your body shut off a snooze-inducing chemical called melatonin. This will help your body develop a more stable nighttime and daytime clock so you are less likely to have trouble sleeping when the Sun Goes Down.
Birding can also get you in good shape as it requires you to be physically active walking, climbing, hiking or whatever else you may need to do in order to get that picture or sighting of a bird. It gets your muscles working and your blood flowing which means, it’s also great for your heart.
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If you are looking to increase upper body strength you will likely get it from birding. Because often you may need larger and heavier binoculars that can let in more light in low lighting conditions, such as in the deep forest, you will likely be carrying other things like a camera, which can be big and heavy. Sometimes also a tripod and most likely a backpack with your food, water and anything else you may need.
When I started out birding, I had no arm strength and it showed it when I would try to hold a camera steady. Now though, I can be just as steady as if I were using a tripod. Holding binoculars or a camera for an extended period of time will increase arm strength. You will also likely improve your reflexes too because, with birding, you never know when a bird may appear. So you need to be able to take that shot after possibly a long time of waiting for it.
And don’t let winter stop you from enjoying birding. Get some snowshoes, trust me snowshoeing is quite a workout! Birding requires you to be out in the wonderful quiet outdoors for long periods of time. This gives you plenty of time to calmly reflect.
Meditative research has shown that meditation is great for the brain. In fact, many entrepreneurs use it claiming that it helps them with productivity and improving personal growth. And there is research to back that up. There is a whole lot more that meditation does though, including possibly slowing the decay of your brains gray matter, something that occurs naturally as we age
Birding also keeps our minds active because you are always learning new things. That’s what birding is all about! New birders are challenged with figuring out “what kind of bird that is”. It makes a great mental puzzle, learning to distinguish the different birds but even the more experienced birder can still learn new things such as different bird behaviors.
Research has shown that exercising your mind like this can help create new neural paths. That may help fight back against diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. That in itself is a great reason to get out there and enjoy some birding.
[Related Post: Where Do Birds Go When It Storms]
Seeing Mother Nature
One last thing I want to touch on and it’s not really related to your physical health but still worth mentioning. Bird watching has this way of making you appreciate nature in its entirety. Even though you are bird watching, it doesn’t mean you won’t witness many other aspects of nature such as a beautiful sunset or a sunrise, a butterfly or bees eating nectar from a flower or more. Exciting things like a cute snowshoe hare or seeing a moose maybe even a mother with her calf.
It’s impossible to not notice other things in nature while birding. Everything is interesting out there. It opens your mind and you begin to understand the basics of how it all works. It’s hard not to gain some level of love respect and admiration of nature, while you are birding. It kind of goes hand in hand. That’s what I found from my experience!
So what do you guys think of this? are you intrigued? Will you try to get at least one or two days a week of birding to reap all these wonderful benefits? let me know your thoughts on the things I’ve touched on below in the comments.