Did you enjoy spending time outside as a kid? I did. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember spending much time inside, unless I was at school. I loved playing outdoors with pets we had over the years, including lots of dogs and cats, a couple rabbits, and a rooster that I treated like a baby. I enjoyed riding my bicycle and skateboard up and down the driveway. I reveled in turning cartwheels and doing handstands in the grass. I liked climbing trees and fishing with my grandmother at our little pond. I spent many hours on the cool ground, looking for lucky four-leaf clovers. (Often while singing I’m looking over a four-leaf clover that I’ve overlooked before . . .) Sometimes, I’d link together the little clover flowers to make a crown garland. I can’t guess how many unfortunate butterflies I caught in a big Mason jar when they would light on the giant twin oaks in the backyard. And the poor June bugs that I caught provided plenty of outdoor entertainment once I tied a long string around one leg, limiting the area to which they could fly. (Hopefully, nobody is teaching kids to catch butterflies and restrain June bugs anymore!) On the playground at school, I delighted in running, jumping rope, and playing on the monkey bars and swing sets. What are your most cherished childhood memories of being outside?
I don’t remember being sick very often as a child, and I think all the time I spent outdoors had a lot to do with it. Research shows time and time again how nature can benefit us. And just because we’re having to lay low now due to covid doesn’t mean we can’t get outside. Actually, being out in the elements is often a better bet than staying indoors.
I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in. ~George Washington Carver
In an article on the Centers for Disease Control website entitled Are There Benefits to Spending Time Outdoors?, it is reported that, due to benes such as the opportunity to be active and the sun’s role in producing vitamin D, being outside may elevate your overall health and wellness. If those were the only significant findings from science in this area, they’re reason enough to get out in nature, wouldn’t you agree?
The EPA report, Estimating Greenspace Exposure and Benefits for Cumulative Risk Assessment Applications, is a lengthy document which addresses many effects of the outdoors on public health. The findings of these multi-disciplinary studies include “improved cognition, attention restoration, and improved immune function.” Also, greenspaces can “reduce exposures to air pollution . . . and noise.” Kind of the opposite of what an indoor environment provides.
The Journal of Positive Psychology published Noticing Nature: Individual and Social Benefits of a Two-Week Intervention, an article describing a study of 3 groups of undergraduates assigned to pay attention to different environments: natural, man-made, and a control group with no change from the norm. The results of the study showed that those assigned the natural environment had more elevated experiences and felt more connected to others and life in general than the other 2 groups. In just two weeks’ time!
The earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
An article from Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, Trends in Research Related to “Shinrin-Yoku” (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing) in Japan, describes many studies, including findings on the smell of plants. (Did you catch my article For the Love of Trees?) Many trees release chemicals that, when inhaled, decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, and reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which works to stimulate fight or flight responses and regulate homeostasis. These bodily changes lead to feeling less stressed. We could all use some of that now, right?
In the book they co-authored, Quench: Beat Fatigue, Drop Weight & Heal Your Body Through the New Science of Optimum Hydration, Gina Bria and Dana Cohen, MD, talk about the ways our modern indoor work lives contribute to dehydrating us. (Check out my article Hydration – No, Really to learn just how critical proper hydration is.) Closed environments like offices, with bright artificial lights, screens and other electronics, air conditioning, heating, and even furniture and flooring, absorb vapor from the air. Modes of transportation, including cars, trains, and airplanes have super-low humidities. Now combine all that with the long periods of sitting that many of us do which constricts the flow of fluids in our bodies, and you understand how you can become a very dehydrated individual by the end of the day. That is, of course, unless you take regular action to stay hydrated. According to the book, drinking beverages like fresh lemon water and eating fruits like apples and grapes, as well as doing little things like opening a window, breathing deeply, keeping a plant on your desk, taking quick walks outside, and all movements, even fidgeting, help you stay hydrated. If you’re working remotely now, can you move your office outside?
One of the few triple-board certified physicians in the country, Dr. Zach Bush, says that getting outside can enhance our overall health by diversifying the microbes in our guts. A healthy microbiome, according to Dr. Bush, consists of between 20,000 and 40,000 species of bacteria. He says that Americans, as a result of eating the standard American diet and regularly consuming antibiotics (via prescription and/or eating commercially raised livestock) typically have about 10% of that amount. Spending time in various natural environments can up that percentage. Think forests, waterfalls, lakes, beaches, deserts, rivers, and rainforests. They each have differing microbes that are just waiting to join and diversify the community of good bugs already present in your gut! (Learn more about the microbiome in my article Thinking Outside the COVID-19 Box: 10 Ways to Boost Immune Function.)
Spending time outdoors is not only fun, but also incredibly healthy, according to science. Maybe the fact that it makes us feels so good accounts for the many hours we spent playing in trees, dirt, and water as kids. And now, walking and biking in nature takes me out of my adult mindset and puts me in touch with a sillier, more playful part of myself. It still makes me feel like a kid.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. ~Albert Einstein
Blessings for Time Outdoors,