Too much of our lives has moved from the outdoors to the indoors. Instead of working outside on the land we’ve moved to office buildings. Instead of walking to work, school and to friends’ houses, we drive. Instead of our kids playing baseball or kickball outside, they’re inside playing video games or building with Legos.
Modern conveniences are a huge blessing but they too often take us away from nature. We were designed to be in nature and here’s why.
Yes we can get vitamin D from foods like pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed cheese and wild-caught fish; but the best source of Vitamin D is good ole’ sunshine. Between being inside all day and slathering ourselves in sunscreen whenever we go outside, 75% of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D. Yes we can supplement, but getting Vitamin D right from the source makes it less likely we’ll overload and end up with Vitamin D toxicity. Vitamin D performs so many functions in the body, we feel it when we’re running low. Vitamin D protects our hearts and bones, nourishes our skin, protects our immune systems, reduces the risk of diseases like diabetes and cancer, gives us energy and helps us feel happier. I always make my kids go 15-20 minutes outside before I put sunscreen on them. Try to get 15-20 minutes of sunshine a day. I live in Colorado so I understand cold days, but fit it in where you can.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a circadian rhythm is basically your sleep/wake cycle. We should feel energized in the morning and tired at night. Nature helps us set that cycle with the rising and setting of the sun. We’d all be much healthier if we woke up at sunrise and went to bed at sunset. In today’s world, that’s not terribly realistic, but we can still use sunlight to help us set those rhythms. Getting sun first thing in the morning and staying away from blue lights (most light bulbs, TVs, electronics – see my post on sleep for more on that) in the evening helps us set those rhythms.
Nature is amazing at reducing stress. Studies show that even showing people pictures of nature can lower stress. Ideally this outdoor time would be spent in a forest or mountains, but even walking around your neighborhood can lower stress. And by lower stress, I mean test show nature can actually lower our cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone our body releases in response to stress. This is helpful if we’re being chased by a lion but constant stress over jobs, parenting, and trying to be perfect can cause a lot of damage if we don’t find ways to lower that cortisol.
So many of us have vision problems because we stare at computers all day. Our eyes are designed to see close up AND far away. Every time I go to the eye doctor, he tells me to take computer breaks every few minutes and look about 20 feet ahead of me. Even then all I can see is the length of whatever room I’m in. Getting outside gives our eyes a much better workout. Breaking away from our close screens and looking around the world can actually benefit our vision.
Natural Mood Boosting
Therapists have seen benefits of combining outdoor time (specifically green outdoor time combined with exercise like walking) with therapy for anxiety and depression. So if you’re bummed, try to find time to take a walk.
This one is a little “woo-woo” but stick with me. Many people believe that coming into direct contact with the earth (sitting in the grass, walking barefoot on your lawn) can help counter some of our electrical expose we get from constantly being tied to an electronic device. People who swear by this say it helps lower inflammation and improve sleep.
Yes we have pollution and other strange things in our outdoor air, but our indoor air is generally full of chemicals and plastic. These chemicals are trapped due to closed windows and insulation (again, awesome modern conveniences that have a bad side). Getting outside and breathing the air lowers our exposure to contaminants. Again, this is even better in a forest or on top of a high mountain, but do what you can.
How we can get outside more
Sadly, we can’t all build a tree-house in the woods and spend our days swinging from vines and fishing “Castaway” style, but each of us can find ways to get outside no matter where we live.
Go for a walk
Walking is so good for us! I’ve replaced a session of HIIT a week with a good walk and I’ve already seen health benefits. Walking is good exercise and has all the benefits of being outdoors.
If it’s warm enough, we always eat outside. Even if it’s a bit cold, I’ll put on a coat and have a cup of herbal tea outside.
Take your computer outside and get some work done. Kids can do homework outside as well.
I make my kids get outside every day in the summer before they’re allowed to watch TV. Even in the winter months, there are often things they can do outside. During the summer we play soccer, horseshoes, draw with sidewalk chalk, ride bikes, go for walks or blow bubbles. In the winter we build snowmen, go sledding, make snow angels or have a snowball fight. We even bring toys and games outside and play cards or have tea parties. If you can move an activity outside, do it.
Walk or ride a bike instead of drive
This isn’t always practical, but if you’re visiting someone in the neighborhood or going somewhere within a few miles, consider walking or riding a bike. Invest in a bike trailer or just add a basket to the front of your bike. Not only is this good for your health, but the environment as well.
Change up date-night
My husband and I often replace the standard date of dinner and a movie with a hike and a picnic. Or we’ll go to dinner and then go for a moonlit walk. Both give us a chance to talk and help us feel way closer than sitting in a theater for 2 1/2 hours.
Use the time you have
We try to go to a park regularly even if it’s just for 15 minutes. I used to try to carve out a couple of ours but life is just too busy for that doing the school year. Spending 15 minutes at the park after school helps my kids concentrate better on homework, helps them get along better and gives them all those benefits we talked about above.
Even on days I really can’t get outside I’ll drive with my windows down or just go stand on my lawn and take 10 deep breaths. And if you can’t do it one day, don’t stress over it. Start where you are and do what you can.