ARTICLESApril 04, 2024

How Do Parks Affect Mental Health?

Should Nature Be Part of Your Mental Health Recovery?

Think about parks and you probably have conjured up a warm but distant childhood memories of summer strolls through lush green grass with your family. Or perhaps you recall the feeling of swinging as high as possible on the swings, feet in the air, wishing that the day would last forever.

“In the world of children, a swing set was a ticket to the skies, touching the clouds with every push.” – Anonymous


If you close your eyes now and imagine yourself in a scenic vision of green, tall trees all around you, would the deep breath you take feel more nourishing and satisfying? Chances are yes. This is a reason that the mere conjuring of nature is a powerful evocative tool we can use in therapy to help our patients.

As adults, parks can be an important and cost-effective place for recreation and important community landmarks. However, aside from the nostalgia and recreational opportunities that parks provide, they also can play a vital role in promoting mental well-being in many ways. Here are some of the ways parks or spending time in nature might have a positive influence on you:


Ways Spending Time in Nature Can Help Your Mental Health

1)Impact on stress and difficult emotions.


Some research suggests that there is a correlation between time spent in nature and reduced difficult emotions.1 The emotions, in particular, include anxiety, feeling low and irritability. Nature exposure has also been linked to reduced stress as measured by reduced muscle tension, blood pressure and cortisol.2 There is some research that also shows that time in nature might also boost endorphins or body chemicals that give a sense of euphoria and dopamine production.3   Even small amounts of engagements with nature or “green exercise” showed significant impact on self-esteem and mood.4


These findings echo indigenous teachings as captured by Potawatomi botanist and author, Robin Wall Kimmerer:


“The land knows you, even when you are lost.”


“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to “those who take care of us.”

― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants



2) Better physical health outcome and health improvements

Increased time in nature has also been found to be associated with improvements in sleep, reduction in tension headaches and improved digestion1. Nature exposure has also been linked to increased physical activity, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease 6 Improving physical outcomes can have benefits that carry through to mental health.


3) Improving social connections.

Nature based group walks have been found to be associated with increased resilience to stressful life events.3 Being in nature especially community parks can increase one’s interactions with neighbours, other members of the communities and provide spaces to create and nurture friendships.


4) Attentional effects

Increased time in green spaces or nature have also been linked to improved directed attention5 and some findings such that the nature benefits that occur with stress reduction may mediate the impact on improved attention. 7


Barriers to Accessing The Benefits of Nature

However, despite these potentially potent benefits across domains, there are several barriers which impact the likelihood of receiving these positive benefits.

1) Park density by neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, parks are not divided evenly among regions. Neighbourhoods in the midtown and downtown regions of Toronto tend to have a lower park density than areas in the GTA. These are undoubtedly affected by the volume and urban quality of these regions, however also underscored is the importance of eco-friendly city planning to ensure access to nature for its citizens.


2) Geographic features of parks.

There is some evidence that suggests that certain topographical and specific characteristic of parks (e.g.,) may impact the size of positive impact of nature. The natural features inherited by parks can provide character, however this also speaks to the potential importance of urban planning initiatives that take these factors into consideration.

3) Socioeconomic barriers

Understandably, socioeconomic factors may limit individuals from access to parks and nature. Individuals in lower income areas are influenced by lower park density (REF) as well as reduced means of access including poverty of time and finances. The Parx program in Ontario allows registered healthcare providers to write prescriptions to patients for park access (gives access to national/official parks).


Therapists may benefit from exploring the meaning of nature for individual patients and incorporating goals related to nature engagement as part of their work. While connectedness to others can be an important value for many people, exploring connectedness to our surroundings may also be value that is not always realized. Identifying the meaning and purpose that nature has provided for you, even if that meaning and purpose has long passed, can signify the degree nature may play in your mental health recovery and personal growth.


At the Momenta Clinic, we have a team of diverse therapists thrive who acknowledge the interplay between physical and mental health. We take a biopsychosocial approach to treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma and other difficulties which acknowledged biological, psychological and environmental contributors to mental health difficulties. We are passionate about helping individuals from diverse communities we practice in and the communities we also represent. Our online counselling, Brampton psychology clinic and Toronto psychology clinic aims to provide effective psychological treatment and therapy for anxiety, depression, trauma, relationship issues and a variety of other difficulties. If you’re looking to find a psychologist in Ontario or BIPOC friendly or LBGTQ+ friendly therapy, contact us now for an appointment or to learn more!



1 Huynh, Q., Craig, W., Janssen, I. et al (2013). Exposure to public natural space as a protective factor for emotional well-being among young people in Canada. BMC Public Health 13, 407.

2 Hunter, M. C. R., Gillespie, B. W. & Chen, S. Y-P. (2019). Urban nature experiences reduce stress in context of daily life based on salivary biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology, 10:722. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722

3 Marsell, M., Irvine, K. N. & Warber, S. L. (2014). Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study. Ecopsychology 6(3):134

4 Barton, J. & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology,44(10):3947-55

5 Berman, M. G., Jonides, J. & Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological Science, 19(2): 1207-12.

6 Jimenez, M. P. et al. (2021). Associations between nature exposure and health: a review of the evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

7 Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P. &Daily, G. C. (2012). The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health.