Get out! (Outside, that is.)
Hey, girlfriend. When was the last time you got outside?
Not just “outside to hop into the car” or “outside to take the trash to the curb”, but outside for a period of time just to be outside? It could be in your yard, or a local park, at the beach, in a forest, or off in the desert or mountains, but when did you last spend at least twenty minutes out of doors?
I’m asking because I used to spend most days inside my house. There I’d be, on the couch or in the kitchen, sometimes looking out at the yard and trees and all the birds and rabbits that live out there, day after day spent inside. It’s not that I didn’t have a way to get outside—our living room had sliding glass doors out onto a brick patio, and there was a table and umbrella out there, and still, I mostly stayed inside.
A few years ago, I started taking walks, sometimes with my husband, Morris, and sometimes by myself. Depending on my health, I only walked our cul-de-sac, or went a few blocks, or if I was feeling great I might do a loop within the neighborhood that takes me a mile or a just bit more. And I noticed that while I was out there and walking, my stress levels dropped tremendously. Maybe it was the walking, or maybe it was seeing all the trees, animals, and landscaping in our neighborhood. Here where I live, we have all four seasons. That means that everything turns green in spring and summer, with flowers blooming; autumn brings trees that blaze into color, then drop their leaves. And there’s something about the crisp, cold air in winter that is extra refreshing, especially if there is fresh snow on the ground.
Nowadays I take a nice walk outside at least two to three times a week. Pretty much regardless of the weather, I return home in a better frame of mind, with a lower stress level. That reduction in stress is even more noticeable when we walk in the woods somewhere, or along the shore, especially if we are in the sand and not on a crowded boardwalk. (Though a crowded boardwalk still lowers stress, as long as you look at the water.)
What science says about that
Turns out, there’s all sorts of scientific support that backs my observation about feeling less stress and being more refreshed when I got out for a walk. One of the books that goes into detail on why that is is The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams. I borrowed the book from my local library, and really enjoyed it. If it’s not in your local library or you’d rather purchase it, you can do that by following the link in the sidebar. (It’s an Amazon affiliate sale, so if you DO buy it by following the link, I believe I get tuppence from Amazon. Or something like that.)
Williams examines scientific studies from many countries and different disciplines, with the conclusion being that being in nature, actually spending time in nature, is good for us. Without meaning to be a spoiler, near the conclusion of her book, Williams says, “Distilling what I learned, I came up with a kind of ultra simple coda: Go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.” (The Nature Fix, p. 254.)
I find that there are days when I don’t feel up to taking a walk, and on those, I get many of the same benefits of nature just by being outside on my patio or in the swing chair in the trees. I can see the clouds, feel the breeze, see and hear the birds, and more. There is something relaxing and soothing about enjoying the yard on a nice day, and I’m sure that the days when I get 15 minutes of sun or so before I put the umbrella up or move into the trees are also helpful, since Vitamin D is a good thing, too.
You can get those same benefits with a walk during your lunch hour at work, a visit to a park, some time on your balcony, patio, or deck, and so forth. If you like hiking, hit the trails when you can. If you want more cardio, walk fast or run or play a sport outside. If you like mind-body exercise, try yoga or tai chi in the out-of-doors—tai chi in particular is enhanced when done outside, and near water. Just remember to get outside, and to breathe.
Nowadays, on days when I’m feeling uneasy or a bit stressed out, but the weather isn’t awful, I go outside and get a natural boost in my mood and reduction in my stress level. Because actually, I can.
And you can, too.