Sneak in Some Nature Time
Even short periods outdoors improve wellbeing.
A couple of weeks ago, I sadly pulled our bird feeders down before they began to bustle for the day and sanitized the terra cotta birdbath, blocking it with a potted petunia. We were intentionally barring our local birds! We’d been hearing of a deadly illness that’s been killing many, many birds across the eastern US, and sure enough, it had arrived in PA. (Also, how weird is it that we were now encouraging birds to “socially distance?”) No exaggeration—Our whole family felt a bit like we were mourning. When we're all home, the four of us love to sit on the deck at dusk, watching a parallel neighborhood of feathered citizens wrap up their day too. Until I pulled down those feeders, I didn’t realize how MUCH this lovely little chunk of time, such a simple pleasure, actually contributed to our overall wellbeing.
Why DOES just about everyone feel better when they spend time outside in nature? Well, improved wellbeing is not just a magical sensation but a researched side effect of spending even small bouts of time outdoors. I recently revisited the latest news on this and came across some insights that profoundly reminded me why I crave being outside—and why it’s important to get out there every day.
Fittingly, the National Park Service has captures the facts best, I think. In its research-backed summary, the service urges us to escape into nature, assuring that we’ll experience the following:
• Improved cognitive function and memory
• Greater physical fitness (because we’re more likely to repeat exercise when we do it outdoors)
• Better health because, as the NPS says, “A 30-minute visit to a park can improve heart health, circulation and lower cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure.”
• Better mood & self esteem and lower stress; in fact, studies show that “physical activity in a green space can reduce stress and lowers cortisol levels by 15%.”
Maybe the most gratifying thing about being outside is that we can suddenly become enshrouded by awe. After all, isn’t this what inspires us to star gaze or hike to a mountain top? Awe ironically makes us feel small and humble. It imbues a deeper sense of perspective. It calms us down. (Seriously, that’s proven.) In fact, awe is linked with many benefits, including greater life satisfaction, increased generosity, sharpened critical thinking, a sense of having more time, and even decreased inflammation in the body. Of course, we can experience awe indoors as well (for example, gazing on a newborn), but going outdoors makes it super easy to flood ourselves with a sense of wonder. Cultivating this feeling regularly leads to greater wellbeing. It can be as easy as stopping to smell the roses. Or watching the birds.
Have a few minutes to step outside into some green space today? It may be the easiest thing you do to improve how you feel. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy of Pexels.com