San Marcos Residents Can Safely Embrace Outdoor Wellness to Benefit Their Mental Health This Summer

SAN MARCOS, Texas – Embracing the sun’s warmth can benefit one’s mental well-being, as outdoor exercise offers physical and mental regeneration. Yet, amidst the rising temperatures, ensuring safety in the summer heat becomes important for those seeking the double benefits of outdoor activity and mental health.

With summer approaching, going outside will become more common. Being outside in green spaces supports an active and healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Whether it’s hiking, swimming, or simply enjoying a walk through a park, outdoor activities offer not only physical exercise but also mental health benefits.

John K. Johnson, a canoeing instructor at Texas State University for 18 years, has students write a reflective essay on their canoeing experiences at the end of each semester.  He said they wrote about how they had the best academic success during the same semester they took canoeing and that their mental states changed positively. 

“Many students talked about their personal battles with depression and remarked that they had a much better and more positive outlook, or mental state, during their semester taking the canoeing class,” Johnson said. “They specifically mentioned being in nature, seeing wildlife, and sharing that with others as a powerfully positive outcome that affected their mental states in a good way.”

Exercise, whether hiking outdoors or swimming indoors, improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem. It has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal, according to the National Library of Medicine. Advocate for outdoor wellness Vanessa Trejo is among many people who find hiking and being outside to positively affect their mental health.

“I think nature has its way of surprising you with its beauty, and sometimes you just need a different perspective, or maybe you just need something more challenging, and hiking has its ways of challenging you and expressing [nature’s] beauty in a way that you’re not used to,” Trejo said. “As we grow older, our days become more routine and consistent, and I can say it makes me feel stuck sometimes. Hiking opens up a way to change your perspective.”

For Junior Knox Morris, exercising outside has helped him build a strong connection not only with his friends but also with nature. 

“Hiking clears your head because sometimes all you’re focused on is the next step,” Morris said. “I feel that going outside and doing physical activities is one of the best things you can do for your sense of well-being. Hiking certainly helps a lot with stress not only because it wears you out like any other exercise, but because it helps you deeply trust and appreciate the people you’re around and see the world as the beautiful ecosystem it is.”

Many student mental health resources are located on campus at Texas State, including Minds Matter and Therapy Assistance Online, and are open to all students. Although hiking has shown benefits to others, Junior Kaitlin Lyon said she swims to exercise, which allows her to mentally refresh herself between classes and schoolwork. 

“The main thing on my mind is to get in more shape and try to really push myself to my absolute limit, thinking that if I can push myself in exercise, I could push myself in my schoolwork,” Lyon said. “I was pretty stressed out coming back from spring break with everything being all scattered, and now I have homework to catch up on. Swimming just kind of takes away the stress, and it makes me more relaxed.”

Individuals can become ill from the heat if their bodies can’t compensate for it and properly cool off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Trejo said she takes many precautions before exercising and going outside.

“I think you should dress light, carry light, have a lot of water and sunscreen,” Trejo said. “I know I’ve learned from my mistakes. Try to keep everything covered up from the sun, but keep your clothes light and drink lots and lots of water.”

Additionally, the CDC also recommends starting activities slowly and gradually picking up the pace, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking cool showers or baths to cool down.

For those who do not enjoy being outside in the heat but still want to exercise, San Marcos has many options for indoor activities, definitely for students. The Student Recreation Center offers free amenities to students with their netID, such as an indoor track, weight rooms, rock climbing, swimming and boxing. There is also The Meadows Center for those intrigued with the San Marcos River and its species. Outside of campus, there are student discounts for Sunset Bowling Lanes or, technically inside, the Wonder World Caves

Among the many indoor activities to do in San Marcos, Lyon said she goes to the indoor swimming pool, which is her go-to choice for staying active.

“I really enjoy the school community, and this gets me more involved with the school and allows me to gain a hobby in the meantime,” Lyon said. “It’s the only lap pool in the area that provides free swimming for students, and I really enjoy that. I prefer to go swimming since it helps me feel more comfortable and less in my head than a weight room or ellipticals.”

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