Small changes can have big impacts. Spending time in nature on a regular basis can improve your physical and mental health, and start shaping your thoughts and actions to become more environmentally conscious. This article discusses the health benefits, environmental benefits, and recommendations related to spending time outdoors. My aim is to inspire you and remind you of the importance of taking care of the body, the mind, and the planet.
Physical health improves through outdoor activities in a variety of ways. For example, activities that can be enjoyed outdoors like walking, jogging, swimming, skating, cycling, among others that promote the physical activity necessary to keep our bodies healthy and supple. The recommended amount of vigorous physical activity for adults by Canadian Health Guidelines is at least 150 minutes per week (CSEP). In conjunction, it is recommended to also engage in several hours of light physical activity such as standing, slow walking, or mild stretching (CSEP). If you are planning on going to pick up groceries or a coffee, consider taking the time to walk to your nearby supermarket or coffee shop instead of driving or taking public transportation. This will help you meet the recommended hours of physical movement. Dedicating several hours of our day to engage in physical activities helps reduce sedentary lifestyles that can keep us glued to our desks and screens, negatively affecting our physical and mental health. This can be especially true and important during times of covid when we find ourselves at our computers all-day-long with minimum incentives to leave the house.
Various studies suggest that spending time in nature improves mental health by reducing anger, anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as boosts a person’s mood. A popular term for spending time in nature in Japan is shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing. Shinrin-yoku is a form of therapy that became popular in the 1980’s and that although the name suggests it must take place in a forest, it can be carried out effectively in any natural space such as a park, a field, or a shoreline. There are different ways to engage in forest bathing but the principal idea requires about an hour in nature in which a person can practice mindfulness of the body, the mind, and the surroundings. It is important to be conscious of breathing while taking a light walk or pausing to take in the view in the surrounding area. For best practice, it is recommended to make a note of your feelings before and after you have bathed and remember any notable moments you experienced during your walks such as noticing a change in emotion or spotting a deer or a blue jay.
In addition to the physical and mental benefits, spending time in nature can also contribute to the well being of the planet through a positive feedback loop that deepens the connection between humans and nature, awakens their curiosity, and saves energy that would otherwise be used if we were staying at home or inside a building. A positive feedback loop happens when a reaction leads to a reinforcement of the reaction, while a negative feedback loop weakens it. An example of a positive feedback loop is when carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere which warms up the atmosphere and creates water vapor as a result, which in turn warms up the atmosphere even more. If a person goes outside regularly a feedback loop will be created because that person’s connection with nature will strengthen leading their thoughts and actions to become more environmentally conscious, which in turn will make them more likely to spend time in nature and care for the environment more. A deeper connection to nature develops when people observe the life cycle of plants and animals and their relationships with each other. Curiosity towards nature and its cycles is awakened by the experiences we observe. Energy can be saved by unplugging and turning off devices that we will not use while we spend time in nature. The physical, mental, and environmental benefits of spending time in nature will have you coming back for more. Some activities you could enjoy in nature are; a walk in the park, exploring a trail, bird watching, and camping.
Happy end of the month I hope you spend more time in nature in April and moving forward!