4 Reasons To Convince Yourself (or a friend) to Spend More Time Outdoors
So I know what you’re thinking. Bet you weren’t outdoors while you wrote this article...Well I’ll have you know that as I write these words to you, I am sitting on a hammock hanging off the tall moss covered Iguazú trees overlooking Garganta del Diablo, as its thousands of gallons of water pour down into the river...Ok, that’s a lie, but I am next to a window with beautiful trees surrounding the homes of my neighborhood and I have been to Iguazú Falls and frequently still dream about it (see below)...
For real though, the trees in my neighborhood are important. In doing research for this piece, I came across the Japanese term “Shinrin-yoku”, which means “Forest bathing”. This is a term developed in the 1980s by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, and I plan on using it colloquially until it catches on.
Friend: “Hey wanna go to the new Arcteryx store that just opened up on La Brea tomorrow?”
Me: “Ah, I’d love to, but I can’t. I’ll be shinrin-yoku all day. But how about next week?”
See? Totally natural.
Speaking of natural. We all know that nature = good for you. The whole get your eyeballs off your screens and your legs onto the grassy floors of the great outdoors, is a big movement right now. We know that looking at pictures of trees on Instagram is not the same as sitting underneath one in a forest. We know that our mental health has been proven to be positively affected by spending time in the woods or the beach or anywhere that connects us to this planet. But even though we know this, we still find ourselves unmotivated to get out there. Ok, so maybe not you, maybe you’re outside all the time. That’s great for you. Maybe you don’t have to read the rest of this. BUT in case you ever need to convince one of your less outdoorsy friends why they should go on a hike with you at 7am on a Sunday morning, here’s a list of reasons you might find useful. Or at least interesting.
The Benefits of Nature
1. Boosts immune system
If you're a hypochondriac like me, this should be a pretty compelling benefit of nature. All I have to do is go outside to fight off the forces of evil sicknesses that still wreak havoc on the poor human immune system?? Ok, so not exactly, but there are these things called “aromatic volatile substances,” otherwise known as scents, and sometimes called phytoncides. They have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When humans breathe it in, we activate white blood cells, which kill tumor and virus infected cells. Research is being conducted in how to harness the power of these smells to prevent cancer. The big C people!!
2. Lowers stress and blood pressure levels
Even though everyone says they want to be less stressed, I sometimes have a hard time believing that they aren't just a little proud to say how busy and overworked they are by their incredibly important and non-stop lives...We HAVE to stop the glorification of busy. It's ok to do nothing. It's ok to be bored. We actually need those quiet moments. Not that nature is boring, but in studies comparing people and their busy indoor lives vs those strolling around in nature, cortisol and adrenaline levels (stress-related hormones) were much lower in those that spent time outdoors. This means less anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue. Even just a view of the trees outside your office window can make a big difference in your overall job satisfaction and daily mood. And, honestly, I'd much rather work next to Positive Patty than Negative Nancy. Just sayin'.
3. Increases mental energy and focus
On top of less stress, you also have more focus and energy to get the work done! Research has shown that spending time in nature increases your concentration levels. So next time you can’t seem to sit still and finish that assignment you’ve been working on, consider procrastinating just a little longer, and go for a walk out in nature. Oh and, ya, leave your cell phone behind (but always tell someone where you went. Don't be one of those freak accident horror stories…).
4. Generates sharper cognitive abilities
More time outdoors has been proven to provide you with the ability to extract the truth from the liars, jump 50 feet into the air like you’re a flying ninja, and punch through concrete walls...jk, that’s Wonder Woman. But nature DOES improve your brain skills. This includes improvements in short-term memory, creative thinking and problem-solving skills, and an overall mental boost for those of us using our brains way too much. (God, why we so smart eh?). But no, really, mental fatigue is a thing, so, yes, our brains can be re-booted by the beauty of of the natural world around us.
Alright, so now you have the facts and the research to back it up. Does that mean you need to go out and hike to the top of Mt. Whitney? No. Does that mean I think you should sell your home and all your belongings for a life in a tent by a riverbank. Maybe. No, just kidding, don’t do that. Unless you want to. But, maybe start small, like go camping for a week and see if you like it? It has been said (by David Gessner, National Geographic explorer and nature writer) that small doses of nature leads to greater cognitive power. And who doesn’t want more brain power? You don’t need to do anything big and extreme. You just need to find the time to connect with the spaces outside of urban environments. It’s funny, the urban world developed out of a drive to promote progress and innovation. And yet to perform at our best, we need to revert back to the “primitive”—that is, if you think of nature as primitive. I’m starting to think nature is the one with all the answers.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there!! ;)