Did you get outside today?
I’m not talking about getting outside of your car to mosey into the mall. And I’m not talking about scurrying down the sidewalk of a loud, busy (and likely polluted) city either.
I mean, did you make it a point to get outside with nature? Or if you live in a big city, did you at least spend some time in a tree-filled city park?
If not, then however you feel right this very minute—even if you think you feel amazing, great and well–you could feel even better. And you could be happier too….
My Personal 2-Week Challenge to Get Outside Everyday
I think it is fair to say anyone who knows me well would probably describe me as somewhat of a “health nut”. But an “outdoorsy” kind of health nut? Ummm, probably not. And yet, after completing my own personal Challenge to get outside with nature every single day, I am now a bona fide outdoor enthusiast. And I’ve got photos to prove it (wink).
The photo above is very different than our typical Thursday night outing. Most Thursday nights, our family goes to a nice restaurant somewhere in town, but lately I’m swapping fine dining for rustic picnicking. All of the photos in this blog post (with the exception of the one with me wearing the wool hat-like situation below) were all taken from last night’s dinner outing…outside. I’m not saying I will never go to Chez Jean Pierre or Cafe Boulud ever again, but from here on out I have made a commitment to get outside with nature every single day. So that means, if my schedule does not permit me to get outside during the day, then I will get outside for dinner.
As crazy as it may sound, I was far happier walking in the house after our night outside in nature than I usually am when I teeter back inside (in my very uncomfy heels) and form-fitted dress after our usual Thursday night dinner outings.
It’s not surprising that our son has been ecstatic about my newfound love of nature. And also about the fact he can go shirtless to Thursday night dinners now. I can’t help but also love that he is playing less video games too.
I initially set out to do my “Get Outside” Challenge for 2-weeks, but I have actually been doing it for 3 full weeks now. Although I have not been photo journaling my every excursion, if you follow me on Instagram you may have picked up on the fact that I have been showing a lot more outdoor scenes than normal in the last few weeks. Friends have also been commenting that I am more tan than they have seen me in years and that I seem happier and more relaxed.
Well clearly being outside in the sun will give you a tan, but did you also know there is real research that being outside can actually change your brain chemistry and make you happier?
Before we get to the mood-boosting research, let’s just chat a minute about the elephant in the room: the sun.
I know a lot of women my age (I just turned 40 years old on April 4th) don’t like to get outside much because they worry the sun causes wrinkles, age spots and other not-so-great-skin troubles, including the big one… skin cancer. But there are a number of researchers who are now saying guidelines being too restrictive regarding sun exposure may actually do more harm than good for health. And besides that, there is legitimate research that shows eating an anti-inflammatory diet and adding certain key foods (such as green tea, omega-3 rich fish, and carrots) can act as an internal “edible” sunblock. As a fair-skinned 5th generation Floridian with light eyes and light hair, I have absolutely seen the terrible effects of skin cancer and sun-induced skin aging on my family members, so I am most definitely not oblivious to the fact that excess sun exposure ages the skin terribly. And yet, there is now research showing moderate sun exposure and the vitamin D it causes your skin to produce, can actually help protect your body from a number of different cancers, including skin cancer. Also, keep in mind that I am by no means promoting excess sun exposure. I would never in a million years advocate getting a sunburn. Instead, I am suggesting moderate sun exposure. And you don’t need to go outside right in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest either. But having said that, I do think sun exposure definitely contributes to the benefits of getting outside.
As for how nature affects your mood, the research is substantial, and in my opinion, indisputable. Just take a few moments to watch the video, “This is Your Brain on Nature”, below…
Of course Monks were writing about the healing and restorative power of working in gardens and tending to greenhouses centuries ago, but science is only now really catching on to the legitimacy of it all.
Researchers have now discovered “nature therapy” causes meaningful improvements in parts of the brain that affect mental health and cognition. In a nutshell, if you make it a point to get outside and immerse yourself in nature on a regular basis, here are just a few of the benefits you will reap:
- Overall improved mood and sense of well-being
- Decreased anxiety
- Decreased negative thinking and rumination (Note: rumination is a precursor to depression and studies show it is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas)
- Improved cognition
- Improved memory
So, how did I stumble on all of this? And how did I get the idea to start my little “Get Outside” Challenge?
It all began while we were on a spring break ski trip in Whistler a few weeks ago. I was doing a technology fast for the first part of the trip and instead of spending my mornings checking email or posting on social media, I was going on long hikes in the wooded area near our hotel, which is where I took the photo on the left. I couldn’t help but notice the mood-boost I was getting from the walks. At first I thought my good mood was simply because I was on vacation. I mean, who isn’t happy on vacation?
But after browsing through a book about “nature therapy” at Armchair Books, the only bookstore in Whistler, I soon decided I had to give the nature walks at least a little credit for my mood boost. I didn’t actually buy the book and for the life of me I can’t remember the name of it, but once I started researching online it was obvious that there is legitimate researching linking “nature therapy” and happiness.
In the world we live in today, I realize it might seem difficult, if not impossible, to get outside every single day. But my advice is to just try it for 2-weeks and see how you feel. My guess is that you will feel so good (and have so much more energy!) that you won’t want to give it up.
I now consider my “outdoor therapy” just that, therapy.