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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Byrne

Nurture Your Well-Being: Explore the Best Ways to Connect with Nature in Toronto

By now, it’s well-established that being in nature can work wonders for your mental and physical health. A stroll along a tree-lined path or a bike ride through a lakeside park can boost endorphin levels and dopamine production. Being in nature can also reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.

The inverse is true too; spending less time outdoors has been associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety. For instance, there’s evidence that a lack of access to green space is linked to climate anxiety in young people.

For this year’s Mental Health Awareness month, try spending some time outdoors, even if it’s just twenty minutes a day. Chances are, you’ll be inspired to keep up the habit well beyond May!

Even if you live in a highly urbanized space, there are ways to get your daily dose of what Richard Louv calls “Vitamin N.”

1. Walk or hike

If you live outside of the city, this is usually not too difficult. Find you favorite hiking trail or that beach or creek you like to stroll along. Take a few minutes before or after work to go on a short walk. You can save the longer hikes for the weekend.

Even if you live in a major metropolis like Toronto, this is doable—you just need to find a park, a riverwalk, or a lakeshore. Often, this is easier to do than you might think, as most cities are built near water.

Toronto boasts a stunning lakeshore and numerous parks spread across its diverse neighbourhoods. To locate the park closest to you, the City of Toronto's website offers a comprehensive, filterable list of parks for easy access.

If your pre and post-work hours are always packed, consider taking a lunch break stroll. A mid-day walk can be a wonderful mood-booster and destressing exercise. There’s even evidence that it can help people fend off depression!

2. Bike

Another fun, green way to get around and outside (and avoid wasting time in Toronto’s absurd traffic) is by bike. If you don’t own one, Toronto has an accessible and fairly affordable bike share program that can get you pedaling from place to place around the city.

Studies show that biking confers all kinds of impressive mental health benefits, such as increasing the brain’s white matter integrity. It’s also an easy way get some exposure to nature, especially if you pick scenic routes that go through parks or along the lake. So, the next time you want to zip over to a friend’s house or to a new restaurant and it’s too far to walk, hop on a bike rather than confining yourself to a train or car. You’ll be doing the environment a favor and she’ll being doing you one!

3. Garden

Obviously, if you live in a house with a yard, this is easy—but don’t fret if you don’t.

Once again, the City of Toronto’s website is a wonderful resource. It has a list of community gardens where you can grow your own produce, as well as allotment gardens. If that’s not your style, consider volunteering at a place like The Hort, at a local place of worship, or at some other community center that has gardens which are at least partially maintained by volunteers. Even spending half an hour nurturing potted plants on your balcony or in your home can help you feel more connected to nature.

Gardening, like walking and biking, is associated with all sorts of health benefits—including a lower rate of dementia, better focus, reduced stress, and improved mood. The next time climate anxiety feels too overwhelming, pop outside and take care of your plants!

4. Camp

Camping is something to save for vacations and long weekends, but it’s a great activity for getting your nature fix and indulging in self-care. Ontario Parks’ website notes that breathing in higher levels of oxygen and pollution-free air, sleeping undisturbed by artificial light and noise pollution, and producing more Vitamin D thanks to being in the sun (just remember sunscreen!) are a few of the health and mood-boosting benefits that come from camping.

Fortunately, Toronto and its surrounding areas offer a variety of camping sites to choose from. Check out this comprehensive list from BlogTO for some great options!

Prefer something a little fancier? It’s ok to “glamp” too! You can still get a healthy dose of nature if you rent a cottage by a lake in the woods—just make sure to spend time outside.

Plenty of Opportunities

Finding ways to regularly incorporate nature into your daily life can seem daunting, especially if you live in a bustling city. Don’t despair though—as this list shows, there are more options than you think. Give one or more of them a try—your brain will probably thank you!

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