A Whole9 guest post by James Murphy, a self-described nature-loving-hippie who loves to play outside.
When was the last time you went outside? No, not just to walk to the mailbox… really went outside, on purpose, for the pure enjoyment of it?
Many people probably couldn’t answer that question with any recent date. In this day and age, many of us think of the “great outdoors” as something that’s nice to think about or view from afar, but to actually participate in getting outside? Some people think about spending time in the great outdoors as a special occasion, not a part of our regularly scheduled programming.
It’s a mistake to view nature as an occasional vacation destination. By neglecting natural environments as an integrated part of our habitat, we are not only missing the resulting health benefits, but may actually be experiencing some negative downstream health effects.
Bottom line, studies show that spending time in “green spaces” is good for your stress levels, happiness, and health. And “green” isn’t limited to grassy fields and parks—you could be outside in blue (rivers, lakes, streams, or oceans), brown (beaches or woods), white (snowy fields or mountains), or any other colour nature could imagine.
Top 4 Reasons to to Go Outside:
1. Nature can restore your focus.
We often take our ability to focus and exert willpower for granted. We treat it as something that should just happen when we need it to. But what allows it to happen in the first place?
Ultimately, the parts of your brain responsible for directing your attention rely on a source of energy in order to function. And like your muscles, your brain runs out of energy if it’s in constant use without a break. Urban environments constantly demand focus and attention, and seldom give us a break. Billboards, television, smartphones, neon signs, traffic jams, crowds of people, lines, noise pollution—all incredibly mentally fatiguing!
To restore focus and willpower, you need to give your brain regular recovery time by immersing yourself in natural environments. Nature is restorative in its ability to catch your attention in a passive manner, stopping you from draining your brain, and allowing the energy supply to recover. It’s like recharging your battery.
2. Nature helps you relax.
Our modern lifestyles can get pretty hectic if we let the stress build up unchecked. In fact, being stressed is now just the norm—so much so that it can easily go unnoticed. Being in a natural environment or a green space can give us a feeling of relaxation that combats anxiety and stress.
Going for a walk along a river, through a park, or up in the hills is a sure-fire way to de-stress. In fact, this effect is so powerful that simply viewing the outdoors or pictures of beautiful natural scenes can affect our thought patterns in a helpful way.
A mental break to relax and de-stress could be as simple as a quick walk, looking at the awesome nature scenes screensaver you’ve got on your computer, eating dinner at a picnic table in the park instead of in front of the TV, or gazing at the flowers sitting on your kitchen table.
3. Nature is good for your brain.
Spending all of our time in the concrete jungle can quickly become monotonous and depressing. Artificial environments are ultimately boring to our innate need for novelty. Although they can be exciting and stimulating in the short-term, they don’t tick all the boxes in the list of things our brain requires for novelty and excitement.
Nature can give us a sense of being away from it all, either mentally or physically. The natural world is absolutely fascinating! Because natural environments are so rich in scope, they very easily capture our imagination. This doesn’t stop with just visually-fascinating environments either. Nature provides a myriad of sounds, smells, and textures, all of which are vastly different than a city environment.
(For more, check out http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3724873/)
4. Nature makes you happy.
Spending time in a natural environment can surely boost our mood—but do we really appreciate how much? We tend to underestimate the benefits that nature can have on our happiness and state of mind. Studies show that activities in nature make us feel more happy than those same exact activities performed indoors. For example, walking through a park makes us a lot happier than walking on a treadmill in the gym.
We can all relate to this idea—you’re thinking about going for a walk, but you don’t really want to leave the comfort of the couch. Somehow, you work up the motivation to change your clothes, drive to your favorite trail, and start hiking. Lo and behold—you immediately feel amazing! You wonder why you don’t do this more often! And when you’re done, you think, “I am so glad I did that.”
It’s easy to forget how happy getting outside makes us—but the more often we practice, the easier it will be to remember.
We are a part of the natural world
We are part of nature—we instinctively know this to be true. We’ve even given it a name (“Mother Nature”) that inherently means we were born from our environment. We cannot separate ourselves from nature no matter how hard we may try.
More and more, however, we are isolating ourselves from the natural world—the real world. There is a mismatch between the environmental inputs our biology expects, and those we currently surround ourselves with. Including more time in natural environments is getting back to the real world and experiencing the things our biology dictates we should be experiencing.
Looking at the big picture, health involves more than just food and exercise (though it’s accurate to say that It Starts With Food). It’s critical that you consider the environment in which you live as a key factor in reclaiming your health and living a happy life. If there is one takeaway message from all of these points, it is simply:
Go outside and play — it’s good for you!
(For more, read The Biophilia Hypothesis)
James is a nutritionist and lifestyle consultant who works using a holistic (integrative) approach toward understanding human health. He is also a member of the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand.
As an amateur adventurer, James spends much of his time outdoors playing amongst and exploring nature, which helps to fuel his appreciation for the importance of natural environments in improving our health as humans. He writes at EvolvedHuman.com. (All photos by the author. Follow him on Instagram: @PrimalRush)
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