By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Job 12: 7-8
It is spring! After a long winter, I am looking forward to being outside and enjoying nature. I can’t wait to ride my bike, go for walks, go hiking, work in the yard…you get the idea. Fresh air, sunshine, the smells of the earth all renew my spirit. It may be the endorphins that our bodies produce when we exercise, but I like to think that it is just being outside and appreciating God’s creation. Would it surprise you to know that the average American spends 93% of their life indoors? This means that only 7% of the average American’s life is spent outdoors (Environmental Protection Agency). Several studies have found that exercising outdoors in nature results in greater feelings of enjoyment, energy, vitality, restoration, and self-esteem. Let’s explore the bountiful benefits that nature gives us.
According to several sources, there are many benefits to spending time outdoors. Here are a few:
Being outside gets us out of the house and those sedentary habits we may have developed—watching TV, anyone? Walking, gardening and yard work all increase our activity level.
In 2013, more than 10,000 Canadians participated in the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Nature Challenge. The challenge was to spend 30 minutes in nature, every day, for 30 days. Here’s what the participants reported after 30 days:
Increase in sense of well-being
Reduced stress and negativity
Fewer sleep disturbances
Increased job productivity
They felt happier
A Calm Mind and Body
Spending time in nature allows our body to slow down and brings a feeling of peace and calm and may improve our mood and reduce anxiety.
In the book “Your Brain On Nature: The Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality”, Eva M. Selhub, MD and Alan C. Logan, ND examine the effects of nature on the brain. They propose that spending just 20 minutes in nature improves vitality, which is defined as emotional strength (resiliency) and living life with enthusiasm.
Studies have found that spending time in nature can help improve memory – especially short-term memory.
Restored Mental Energy
Our brains get tired. To restore our mental energy, it helps to spend time outdoors.
What can we do to spend more time in nature? Here are a few examples:
Get into the garden. It keeps you active and if you plant vegetables— you will have healthy produce at your fingertips.
Sit outside and read on your porch or deck.
Sit outside and do some of your usual daily activities such as checking email, making phone calls, homework, having a cup of coffee.
Go for a daily walk—even if it’s just around the block.
Eat meals outside when the weather cooperates. Breakfast is my preferred time to eat outdoors.
Discover a new hobby that is based in the outdoors. My favorites are hiking and biking, but you can also consider photography or painting.
Take your kids/grandkids (or yourself) to the park after dinner.
Take your dog for a walk—it’s good for the dog too.
Don’t sit at your desk or in the cafeteria at work—take your lunch break outside.
Take your bike instead of your car.
Any way you choose to spend time outdoors is the right way! Take time in the next few weeks to let your body and mind reconnect with nature and experience the positive effects on your health!