As weather warms, outdoor activities can help with mental health

May typically brings an increase in sunny skies and warmer weather, prompting residents across the region to spend more time outdoors. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, getting outside to enjoy nature and engaging in physical activity can help alleviate some mental health symptoms.

While regular exercise’s direct impact on mental health is still being studied, researchers found many instances where exercise helped reduce the chances of developing depression or experiencing symptoms.

“Everyone knows exercise is great for physical health, but it’s also really beneficial for mental health, emotional health,” said Mike Shapiro, vice president of operations for Ignite Fitness Holdings with Planet Fitness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the “feel-good” endorphins released during exercise help reduce stress. An individual may also have more confidence as they better their relationship with their bodies and socialize with like-minded individuals.

Shapiro added that regular exercise also helps improve overall physical health, which often positively impacts mental health. For example, he said exercise can boost immune and brain health, improve disease management and strengthen bones. Shapiro emphasized that even the smallest movements can significantly impact a person’s mental health.

If a person runs for 15 minutes or walks an hour a day, their chances of experiencing depression can reduce by 26%, according to a report by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Anything you can do is a great starting point. Just get yourself active, and there’s no such thing as too little,” Shapiro said. “Whether it’s walking down the street or house or walking on a treadmill for an hour.”

Starting with support 

Everyone’s routine and exercise style will be different, but Shapiro recommends starting small and with plenty of support. For example, bringing friends and family to fitness classes creates a challenging but encouraging environment. 

He added that fitness applications provide options for people looking to be fit but who may not have the time to go to a gym. The apps can guide a person through a workout with simple routines that can be performed at any point throughout the day without equipment. 

“Health and wellness is not a race. The goal here is to live longer, healthier lives and as long as you’re just getting out there and staying active every day, that’s the key,” Shapiro said. 

Some individuals find their support through local exercise programs, such as the Hamden-Cheshire Rail Trailers. The youth cycling group operates all year and focuses on three disciplines of cycling: mountain, road and cyclocross. 

Hunter Pronovost, one of the team’s head coaches, said biking gives kids many opportunities to encourage and challenge each other while achieving their goals. 

“[Biking] is very much a positive loop… [The kids] apply themselves, get better, and see the fruit of that, so they set some more goals,” Pronovost said. “Rinse and repeat.” 

Pronovost said the team focuses on road cycling along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail during the summer. He explained that the multi-use paved bike path is the perfect spot for their group since the kids can learn how to interact with public roads while being safe. 

As the season progresses, Pronovost likes to coordinate bike rides to a team member’s house, where the team can enjoy snacks, music and drinks from the parents. He explained that this allows the individual Rail Trailers to explore their local roads and celebrate their hard work under adult supervision. 

In the fall, the Rail Trailers switch focus to a “unique discipline” of riding that combines mountain and road cycling called cyclocross. The season primarily comprises statewide competitions that accommodate all ages and skill levels, Pronovost explained. In addition, because of the wide range of events, entire families are able to compete and participate. 

“I’ve seen families literally come closer together and have better relationships with each other because they’re enjoying the bike racing regularly on the weekends,” Pronovost said. 

Hike for Health and more

Hiking up the trails in Meriden leaves Danny Rodriguez feeling deeply satisfied. Pushing through the sharp inclines with his heart racing, his efforts culminate as he reaches the peak of his journey. 

It was at the top of the Giuffrida Park trail when Rodriguez learned that his friend had died by suicide via social media. He soon went on Facebook Live to express his grief, but was comforted by being in nature while in the earliest stage of mourning the loss of his friend. In the video, he asked to coordinate a monthly hiking club dedicated to bringing awareness to mental health. 

“Getting out in nature along with moving your body and exercising it all just kind of plays a role in that feel-good chemical that’s released naturally in your body,” he said.

Rodriguez is partnering with the Meriden Parks and Recreation Department to host a town-sponsored Hike for Health early this summer. Hikers will be greeted with snacks and refreshments at the top of the trail. In addition, several cars will be available to drive hikers back down the trail. 

Throughout the summer, Meriden Parks and Recreation hosts numerous health-oriented activities and programs that are free or low cost. 

“We encourage everyone to get off their phones, away from their desks, get outside, and enjoy all the amenities Meriden has to offer,” said Kathy Matula, the city’s recreation coordinator. 

Free community yoga sponsored by Meriden Parks and Recreation is hosted bi-weekly on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6-7 p.m. at the Hubbard Park Bandshell and the Augusta Curtis Culture Center, respectively. In addition, the Meriden running club meets on Wednesday nights at the Red Bridge Trail. 

The Meriden Memorial Mile is “a walk/run” benefit for local veterans hosted Monday, May 29. Registration cost for adults is $20 and $10 for children under 16-year-olds. 

The Splash Pad is set to open June 10, and the Hubbard Park Pool will open June 17. 

Starting June 21, the Platt High School track is open for the Meriden Fun Run. The weekly Wednesday night meet challenges adults to run five kilometers and kids to run three-fourths of a mile. The same night also marks the start of Make Music Day in downtown Meriden. 

Southington Parks and Recreation is hosting seven adult fitness classes throughout May and June for $35. The low and high-impact aerobics and strength training is held at the Calendar House Senior Center and led by instructor Carol Brazil. The classes run from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on May 16, 23, 30 and June 6, 13, 20 and 27.

Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at To learn more about RFA, visit

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