Boosting Your Health Through Nature

Photo by Veronica Vangante. See more of her work on instagram @unaveronicavagante

There is a beautiful reward in nature, waiting to leave you refreshed, inspired, and entertained in a healthy and limitless way. Here’s how it works!


Preface:
I start most of my personal writing pieces as a “digital journal.” In some cases, just as soon as each sentence flows onto the page, a new question surfaces in my mind. These questions, paired with my desire to have reliable information on all of my work, results in a small research project. I start finding sources to answer these questions, and suddenly I have a worthy blog post. That is the process of how some of the posts in the “Lesson’s Learned” collection originated, and such is the case with this post today.

Deeper than Dog Pets

I am currently sitting on a park bench writing this blog post. It is the most beautiful day outside with just the right amount of brisk wind to keep me from dozing off. Families are walking by and extending a smile or nod. Dogs trot past, and if I’m lucky, they stop for a quick pet. The sounds of birds chirping in the background is the soundtrack for this productive moment, and though I am aware of the splendid feeling, I cannot fully articulate the deeper impact nature is playing on my overall health. I would not doubt that these feelings are all emerging from the opportunity to pet a passing dog, but I am inspired to find out what proven health benefits come from being in nature. In the process of researching, I am driven to share my findings with you. I hope my personal testimony, combined with reliable data will encourage and inspire you to go out and reap the benefits of the nature around you.

Photo by B. Swigart in Yosemite National Park
Photo by B. Swigart, Yosemite National Park

The Problem

A sedentary, screen-filled lifestyle is looming over most of the population in today’s modern society. What we also don’t recognize is how often we are allowing digitized distractions rob us from the benefits of outdoor activities. The television, computer, cell phone, and tablet screens offer a momentary relief from stress, or entertainment, but these (not-so-active) activities are stealing much of our precious time.

Not So Hard-Earned Rewards

There is nothing wrong with technology, in fact it is a fascinating tool in which I am able to make a living. Then, outside of working on my computer, I enjoy evenings sometimes binge watching T.V.. I believe it is important to grant yourself the freedom to have relaxing, rest filled days in whatever form that means to you. On the other hand, I want to encourage myself and you to reconsider the range of options out there that can relax and refresh. Many of the rewards we offer ourselves are momentary masks for endorphin and serotonin release. Getting outside, and into nature, provides a natural boost to your overall well-being. Stress relief, blood circulation, positive stimuli, and much more can be found right outside your door.

Mental

Photo by B. Swigart, Yosemite National Park
B. Swigart, Yosemite

When our brains are exhausted from highly stimulating activities and environments, we are not capable of thinking our clearest. The stress of everyday life such as city noises, television input, artificial lights, and time staring at a screen are considered to be cognitive strains and are labeled by Kaplan and Kaplan as “hard fascinations.” These hard fascinations can contribute to depression, anxiety, and attention deficits which are prevalent in our modern society.

Here is were nature can work its restorative magic through what is labeled as “soft fascinations.” Soft fascinations from nature provide a bounty of benefits to metal health including stress release, cognitive rejuvenation, and a sense of escape. Currently there are a growing number of studies displaying the positive results nature has on the mind. From more productive employees, to healthier hospital patients, the addition of nature into our modern society is positively effecting people across a multitude of lifestyles.

Physical

Stepping outside for your daily dose of exercise is a well-known benefit to one’s body. This simple act has seemingly endless studies displaying the physical benefits of outdoor activities. Speaking solely to the physical traits of the body, being outdoors fights off vitamin D deficiencies and fills your lungs with fresh air. Of course, if you add a hike or exercise into the day, you will reap all the benefits of those exercises as well.

Make It Work

Not everyone has a park conveniently located in their town, allowing them to step into nature without much planning or thought. It is also likely that not everyone has decent weather to enjoy midday excursions, but it is important to try to make what you have work.

One year Brooks, who was teaching at the time, held his parent teacher conferences outdoors! Of course, there are some limitations, but even just 10 minutes in the fresh air can grant you the break from the stale indoors that will refresh you for the rest of the day.

Is there a park on the way home from your job or school? Can you bike to a green location? Be creative about how you get outdoors. You do not need to go very far to reap the benefits of fresh air, beautiful plants, and the sunshine.

Get Help from Others

There are a multitude of ways to connect with other likeminded people who want to increase their time in nature. Search the web for groups that meet for hikes or outdoor workouts in your area. I’ve seen group trips for horseback riding, yoga, and even yoga with horses! It’s worth a look to see if there are groups of people who could motivate you to step outside and try something new. You may be surprised to see what activities are offered near you, as well as make new friends along the way.

Infiltrate and Inspire

A difficult, but rewarding, way to continue reaping the benefits of the outdoors is to start with your friends and family. You have the power to be a catalyst for change in your close social groups and relationships. Own that role and lead your loved ones to greener pastures, literally!

Photo by B. Swigart, Phoenix Mountain Preserve
B. Swigart, Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Aid the Next Generation

Unfortunately, our own life is not the only one being affected by an indoor lifestyle. Currently, “children aged five to sixteen spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen,” according to BBC.

The younger generation needs to be taught to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. If you have a young one of your own, plan an outdoor date with them. There are also many after school or summer break clubs and programs such as the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, NOLS, which teach children about the joys and health of life away from a screen and in nature.

Take Dates Outside

We recently wrote an article on “Adventurous and Affordable Dates.” The motivation behind this post was not only to share the joys of our favorite activities, but also to encourage others to take advantage of the natural boost nature provides. Social gatherings, time spent with friends and family, and even meetings can be moved outdoors.

Photo by M. Swigart

Double Your Blessings

I am often reminded of the well known Stanford Marshmallow Experiment when deciding to put forth the effort of stepping outside. For those who are not familiar with this study, here is what happened. Pre-schoolers were given an option; they could receive a marshmallow that minute, or they could wait alone with the marshmallow for a set amount of time in order to receive a second marshmallow, as a reward for not eating the first. Further results from this study went on to show that those children who waited achieved higher goals and measurable successes in life. (More recent publications unveil the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment to be more of a reflection of the children’s social and economic background rather than delayed gratification, but I digress from my point.) Choosing to put your favorite TV show, social media app, or other stress relief habit on hold to step into nature, can lead to greater and lasting rewards.

When the screen’s blue glow summons me as a moth to a lamp, I remember the great value in stepping outside and into the benefits of nature. Sometimes it is as simple as putting off the momentary reward and challenging yourself to be refreshed, inspired, and entertained in a different way. With a beautiful and wild world waiting outside your door, this new challenge can start with a single step outside.

What is your favorite outdoor activity? Do you have a story about a time nature refreshed you? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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