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Top 5 Fall Activities for Mental Health Benefits

Updated: Nov 9, 2022

September is that wonderful time of the year where summer comes to a close and fall begins. It is warm enough to still do quite a bit outside, yet the brisk mornings or even full days start to become more common. With the change of weather, new activities become available or more popular. Here are a few that are fun but also can improve your mental health in an enjoyable and impactful way.


Have a Bonfire

Weather during this time of the year just seems to be perfect for a bonfire. Warm enough to still go outside yet cold enough to make the heat of the bonfire that much more appealing. People get together and have times with friends or family when doing so. Spending time with friends and having a good social support system has been linked to lower rates of depression (1) and better overall health. Those with good social support also typically live longer with lower rates of cancer or cardiac related problems compared to those that do not have good of social support or place they feel they belong (2). I am already a big fan of being outside as well as sitting around a bonfire and here is just one more reason to make that happen with a group of friends and loved ones your life.



Eat Pumpkin

The one food that is so common or trendy during this time of the year is obviously the large orange squash that is the pumpkin. In pies, coffees, deserts, soups, and many other dishes a large portion of individuals go crazy for the food and try to get as much of it as they possibly can. Not only is it tasty, it is also quite healthy for you to include in your diet. Pumpkins get their color from a compound called carotenoid; this compound has also been linked to lower rates of depression and better sleep (3). When eating pumpkin be sure to watch how you are eating it as a lot of desserts can contain quite a bit of sugar or other preservatives that can actually be bad for your mental health. Instead pair it with spices that benefit the brain and mental health such as nutmeg or ginger (4 and 5). Click here to see my recipe for my delecious pumpkin spice latte!


Go on a hike and be in nature

As someone who loves to be in the outdoors, I believe that the fall time is the perfect time to do just that and go on a hike. The weather is the perfect temperature and seeing the colors of the leaves as they change makes it that much better. Exercise has been shown time and time again to have a positive effect on overall mental health with issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress as well as more complex mood disorders (6 and 7). Exercise causes the body to release many different hormones that cause the body to feel better and fight some of these mental health issues. Exercise also lowers inflammation in the body which is linked to mood disorders as a whole. Researching is growing on the effects of nature on mental health issues and suggests that it can have positive results in this area (8). This is great information to know as most people spend more time indoors than anything else and do not take advantage of opportunities to be outside. According to the literature any time outdoors can make a difference; as little as ten minutes has been shown to have results (9). I already love being outside so this is not a hard one for me to do, but with the added benefit of bettering my mental health this is a no brainer for me and one I think all people should take advantage of and enjoy the time they can get in nature and see the leaves as they change during this beautiful time of the year.


Eat apples

Another food that is very common during this time of the year are apples. Apples are a very healthy food and have multiple benefits for your mental health. First apples contain quercetin which helps protect your brain against oxidative stress which helps you feel better overall as well as helps your brain age and prevent issues such as dementia (10). Apples also contain fiber and other nutrients that benefit the health of your gut and how it functions (11 and 12). Having a healthy gut helps your body fight inflammation and other issues that can cause problems. There has been growing research that it is linked to the brain and has been termed the second brain because of how big of an impact it has (13 and 14). Most people already enjoy apples quite a bit and they are easy to incorporate in most diets. Grab some apples today and enjoy not only the taste but also the benefits to your mood and mental health. If you want to be a rockstar go to an apple orchard and pick some of your own apples and spend that time in nature and more connected with your food.



Take kids/significant other to pumpkin patch

This is another type of activity that you can only do during the fall time. While nothing particular sticks out with this activity as far as mental health goes it is something special that can be done only during this time of the year. It makes for a great date idea as well as something that you can do with kids if you have any. It is not very surprising that couples that spend time together are more likely to find satisfaction in their relationship and intimacy experienced in that relationship (15). Unfortunately, most couples do not do a great job of this and in my experience as a clinician it is quite normal for most couples to go months without a date. This is a tragedy that is very important to address in the relationship. When this takes place the relationship suffers as a whole. I recommend going on a date or spending some sort of quality time at least once a week. This doesn’t need to be anything crazy or expensive for this example it can be simply walking around a pumpkin patch or some sort of fall festivity.

The same can be said when it comes to spending time with kids. Research suggests that the time that parents spend bonding with children has long term effects and importance on the outcome of children (16). Children that have an unhealthy bond or attachment with their parent have a bigger chance of developing other problems in their life such as depression, anxiety, or relationship issues. While this may sound concerning taking time to pour into your relationship with your kids can be something that can help in this area quite a bit. There is no time like the present to do this and spend time this fall with your family doing something like going to a pumpkin patch.

Here are just a few of my favorite things to do this fall that can be fun and also have wonderful impacts on your mental health. I hope that you can take advantage of some of them before the seasons change too quickly and before we know it the leaves have all fallen and it becomes winter.




References

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2. Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51 Suppl(Suppl):S54-66. doi: 10.1177/0022146510383501.

3. Boozari, B., Moradi, S., Heydarpour, F. et al. The association between carotenoid intake, mental health, and sleep quality among university students. Sleep Breath 26, 829–837 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11325-021-02420-1

4. Saenghong N, Wattanathorn J, Muchimapura S, Tongun T, Piyavhatkul N, Banchonglikitkul C, Kajsongkram T. Zingiber officinale Improves Cognitive Function of the Middle-Aged Healthy Women. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:383062. doi: 10.1155/2012/383062. Epub 2011 Dec 22.

5. Plaingam W, Sangsuthum S, Angkhasirisap W, Tencomnao T. Kaempferia parviflora rhizome extract and Myristica fragrans volatile oil increase the levels of monoamine neurotransmitters and impact the proteomic profiles in the rat hippocampus: Mechanistic insights into their neuroprotective effects. J Tradit Complement Med. 2017 Jun 15;7(4):538-552. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.01.002.

6. Mikkelsen K, Stojanovska L, Polenakovic M, Bosevski M, Apostolopoulos V. Exercise and mental health. Maturitas. 2017 Dec;106:48-56. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003. Epub 2017 Sep 7.

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8. Pearson DG, Craig T. The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Front Psychol. 2014 Oct 21;5:1178. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01178.

9. Meredith GR, Rakow DA, Eldermire ERB, Madsen CG, Shelley SP, Sachs NA. Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It: A Scoping Review. Front Psychol. 2020 Jan 14;10:2942. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02942.

10. Batiha GE, Beshbishy AM, Ikram M, Mulla ZS, El-Hack MEA, Taha AE, Algammal AM, Elewa YHA. The Pharmacological Activity, Biochemical Properties, and Pharmacokinetics of the Major Natural Polyphenolic Flavonoid: Quercetin. Foods. 2020 Mar 23;9(3):374. doi: 10.3390/foods9030374.

11. Koutsos A, Tuohy KM, Lovegrove JA. Apples and cardiovascular health--is the gut microbiota a core consideration? Nutrients. 2015 May 26;7(6):3959-98. doi: 10.3390/nu7063959.

12. Wu W, Zhang L, Xia B, Tang S, Xie J, Zhang H. Modulation of Pectin on Mucosal Innate Immune Function in Pigs Mediated by Gut Microbiota. Microorganisms. 2020 Apr 8;8(4):535. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms8040535.

13. Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018 Jun 13;361:k2179. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k2179.

14.Wiley NC, Dinan TG, Ross RP, Stanton C, Clarke G, Cryan JF. The microbiota-gut-brain axis as a key regulator of neural function and the stress response: Implications for human and animal health. J Anim Sci. 2017 Jul;95(7):3225-3246. doi: 10.2527/jas.2016.1256.

15. Hogan, J.N., Crenshaw, A.O., Baucom, K.J.W. et al. Time Spent Together in Intimate Relationships: Implications for Relationship Functioning. Contemp Fam Ther 43, 226–233 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-020-09562-6

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