17 Best Exercises & Outdoor Activities for Mental Health

17 Best Exercises & Outdoor Activities for Mental Health

What exercise is best for me? Here are our favorite ways to have fun while exercising outside.
Positive Impacts of the COVID Lockdown Reading 17 Best Exercises & Outdoor Activities for Mental Health 9 minutes Next The 5 Best Spots to View Seals and Sea Lions in La Jolla

By Andrew Iida  I Head Writer & Resident EMT

With Mental Health Awareness month coming to a close, we wanted to highlight one of the best things we can do to keep your mind and body healthy: going outside for some fresh air and exercise.

Mental and emotional health can be improved through exercise, so much that  doctors are making it a standard part of their treatment plans.

Indoor exercise is a great option for a lot of people, but going outside has a lot of additional benefits. Just being outdoors improves your immunity, sleep quality, and overall happiness, while reducing stress and anxiety.

And if you’re lucky enough to live near the beach, you get additional boosts to mental health just from being able to see the ocean.

If you need some ideas for getting outside and having fun, here are our 17 top outdoor activities for adults and kids.

1. Kayaking

Okay, maybe we’re biased, but we think kayaking is one of the most fun ways to exercise, and can be a great option for any skill or fitness level. You can take a few hours for a leisurely paddle across calm waters, or head out into the waves for some high-intensity kayak surfing!

If you’re in San Diego, our fully-guided kayak tours will teach you everything you need to know about kayaking. If not, we’ve put together a beginners guide to kayaking to help you get started.

2. Rock climbing

If you’re looking for an exciting activity that combines physical intensity with extreme mental focus, give rock climbing a try. Even when it’s completely safe with ropes and harnesses, rock climbing always comes with an awesome rush that adrenaline junkies will love.

If you’re in the San Diego area, check out Joshua Tree. They have some of the best rock climbing in the country, and we like to call it a playground for all ages.

3. Surfing

We’re not exaggerating when we say that learning to surf can be a life-changing experience. For a lot of us, it can be tough to work up the motivation to hit the gym. For surfers, the tough part is resisting the urge to blow off your commitments and hit the waves.

Surfing is so good for mental health that therapists around the world are using it as a treatment for mental health, and the U.S. military has spent millions of dollars researching it as a promising treatment for PTSD. Surfing won’t just strengthen your body; it’s also an exercise for mental focus.

New to surfing? No problem. Our surf lessons will teach you everything you need to get started in this awesome sport.

4. Snorkeling

There’s no better way to see ocean life than to swim with them in a mask and snorkel. Being so close to the animals in their habitat is a fantastic way to reconnect with nature.

If you’re comfortable swimming in the ocean, snorkeling is a great outdoor activity. It can be as easy as floating in chest-deep water, or a full-body aerobic workout for people who want to swim farther and dive deeper.

Everyday California offers snorkeling tours and rentals for the La Jolla Ecological Reserve, one of the best places to snorkel in the country.

5. Swimming 

There are a lot of options for full-body workouts, but swimming is one of the best. The water supports your body, making it far easier on your joints than a high-impact workout like cross fit.

In addition to being a great way to exercise, swimming opens the door to lots of other activities, including surfing, paddle boarding, and snorkeling. And learning how to swim might just save your life one day!

6. Fishing 

People looking to boost their mental health should know that Omaga-3, a fatty acid found in fish, is an incredible nutrient with a long list of mental and physical benefits. Fishing gives you a fun outdoor activity that can provide you with Omega-3 and the freshest seafood you’ve ever tasted.

In San Diego, you can fish without a licence from any pier, and most of them have bait shops with gear rentals. If you’re looking for something more active, fishing from a kayak turns it into an aerobic exercise.

7. Hanging out at the beach

For those of us who aren't looking for an intense workout in the ocean, the beach is still a great place to hang out for some light outdoor activities. Take a walk, ride a bike, or go for a quick swim.

If you're looking for something more exciting, there are a ton of beach games for the whole family to enjoy. Frisbee, cornhole, skimboarding, kite flying, and sandcastle building will keep people of all ages active during a relaxing beach day.

8. Running

A staple of outdoor exercise, running is a great option no matter where you live. It’s a great workout, free, and doesn’t require any training or skill to get started. For many people dealing with a lot of stress, worries seem to melt away with every footstep.

If you have joint or back pain, try running on the beach. The soft sand will help absorb the impact, and it’s a higher-calorie workout than running on pavement.

9. Yoga 

Yoga is another exercise that is being used by psychologists as a part of mental health treatments. It increases mind-body awareness, boosts neurotransmitter levels, and strengthens social attachments when it is done in a group.

Yoga can be done inside or outside, but a cool, growing trend is stand up paddle board yoga. Yoga on the water requires more focus, balance, and core strength, and provides a unique opportunity to connect with our natural world.

If you need a paddle board in San Diego, we have rentals available 7 days a week.

10. Hiking 

“Yeah, walking’s good, but it seems boring, right? I want to have fun while getting outdoors. What exercise is best for me?”

If that sounds like you, let us introduce you to walking’s cool, older cousin: hiking. It ranges from quick and easy walks to adventurous treks through rough terrain. The awesome thing about hiking is that you can reach awesome destinations that nobody else can reach. Hiking can reveal a world that you never would have seen otherwise.

11. Gardening 

This is one of my personal favorites, and it’s been my main method of staying mentally healthy during the COVID-19 lockdown. There’s something so deeply satisfying about planting a seed, taking good care of it, and seeing it grow into a full, towering plant.

Growing your own garden is a fun way to reduce your carbon footprint, and I’ve never found a tomato at the store that tastes better than the ones from my plants. And if anyone doubts that gardening is good exercise, you’re welcome to spend the day with me tilling, fertilizing, composting, harvesting, and weeding.

12. Bird watching 

This is a great outdoor activity for adults and kids. You’ll be able to get outside for some fresh air and exercise, while learning more about the local environment, its biodiversity, and conservation efforts.

Bird watching is easier than ever with free apps that identify and track your bird sightings, and being part of a local bird watching community can give you a great sense of belonging and connectedness.

13. Walking 

If you have bad knees like me, running is a painful option. Fortunately, walking gives you the same benefits as running, and an hour of walking burns as many calories as a half hour of walking.

In San Diego, there are a lot of different options for taking a walk. Try taking a stroll around La Jolla to see our resident seals and sea lions, or head over to Balboa Park to see our world-famous museums and zoo.

14. Biking

Move over, cars! No literally, move over. You’re crowding the bike lane. We share the road here.

Biking is one of the best ways to reduce our carbon footprint, and helps to keep our bodies and minds healthy. The low-impact cardio workout is reproduced in stationary, indoor bikes, but nothing compares to getting outdoors.

In the San Diego area, we have a lot of different options for biking. We have bike-friendly streets, biking trails, the Mission Beach Boardwalk, and mountain biking trails nearby.

15. Camping 

Fresh air, a roaring campfire, and marshmallows toasted to perfection over open flames under a star-filled sky. What could be better?

We love the city, with its nonstop action and bright lights, but sometimes it feels overwhelming. If you need a break, ditch the bedroom and get a tent for the weekend. Adventure awaits.

16. Skating 

Skating isn’t just a fringe activity in San Diego. After San Diego native Tony Hawk brought skating to the mainstream, it’s been a huge part of our culture.

Skateboarding, longboarding, and roller skating are an effective cardiovascular exercise, and a great method for reducing your carbon footprint if you can use them instead of a car. 

17. Meditation 

Meditation is an important skill to learn for anyone who is trying to strengthen their mental health. Doctors have been incorporating meditation into their psychiatric treatment plans because it is so effective at reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.

Meditation, like exercise, can be done either inside or outside, but being outdoors gives us additional benefits. And while it’s easy to see that meditation has a positive impact on mental health, you might be surprised to learn that it can also improve your cardiovascular and immune systems.

Have you noticed a positive impact on your mental health from outdoor activities? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below!

Continue reading