I love the outdoors. And in this post, I want to convince you to love the outdoors, too. “Why?” you ask. Well, in a word (or two): “It’s therapedic” (you Andy Griffith fans should immediately recognize that as a Barney Fife-ism).
You might think the “therapy” of getting outdoors is completely subjective, a matter of preference. And if you don’t consider yourself an outdoors-type of person, you might resist the idea altogether. But please, hear me out first. There is a growing body of research that indicates great benefit in time spent outdoors—even if you don’t necessarily enjoy it. To name a few…
The Benefits of Nature
Time spent outdoors is STRONGLY linked to the reduction of stress and depression. This is the most obvious benefit, as it is the one most easily noted by the participants themselves. Not quite as obvious, though, being outdoors also appears to have a positive impact on memory and attention, creativity, energy levels, and even on how long it takes the body to heal during a recovery process, thus decreasing the amount of time one needs pain medication.
My Love Affair With the Outdoors
I wouldn’t say that I have always been an outdoors lover—or at least not consciously so. I’m a fair-weather lover. And since the weather is “fair” for such a small window of time in my part of the world, I generally prefer to be in the comfort of my temperature-controlled home.
Years ago when I walked for exercise, I would traipse the neighborhood early in the day before most people were up and about. I loved that sense of getting a head start on the day. I loved having “the world” mostly to myself for awhile. There was very little traffic, and so I could clearly hear the birds sing, I could inhale the fresh air minus the traffic smells of exhausts and gasoline. And at the right time of year, the scent of honeysuckle or gardenia might intoxicate my senses, too.
No, I didn’t realize I was loving the outdoors, but I sure did enjoy my morning walks!
I started to realize how much I did appreciate being outdoors after having surgery a few years back. It was not a minor surgery, and it required some recuperation time. In less than a week, I was getting antsy to do something. I drove to the small park near my home with the plan to take a nice, easy stroll along the half-mile loop around the park. There is only one word to describe the immediate effect: therapedic (thank you, again, Barney Fife). I was taking it so easy, even endorphins could not claim part of the credit! The therapy was strictly due to nature’s magic.
The Spiritual Component of Nature
In Proverbs 8, there is a lengthy description of wisdom (actually, it is more a “personification” of wisdom). In that passage, Wisdom ‘says,’ “I was filled with delight day after day, 1) rejoicing always in his [God’s] presence, 2) rejoicing in his whole world and 3) delighting in mankind.” I’ve inserted the numbers to draw attention to the three-fold delights of Wisdom.
Of course Wisdom delights being in God’s presence (#1), and of course Wisdom loves people (#3), but who knew that Wisdom loves God’s creation, God’s whole world (#2)!? I have included this for those of you who don’t see the value of the great outdoors. You see, it goes beyond just a matter of preference; it’s a characteristic of wisdom! It’s a spiritual quality! His creation is a very expression of Himself! We can see a little of Who God is by observing His handiwork.
Starting an Outdoors Habit
There’s a number of ways to incorporate the outdoors into your life, regardless of how busy you are.
You can have your morning coffee or tea outside and bask in nature’s song at the same time. You could do your daily reading outside. Do you start the day by making a to-do list? Do it outside! Simple “props” like a bird feeder, a bird bath or a clay pot of seasonal flowers can add to the experience, but they’re not essential.
Maybe you tense up just thinking of adding something new to your rushed morning routine. Then try a different approach. Could you take a lunch-hour stroll outside (this option would have the dual effect of getting you outdoors and also beating the afternoon slump that so many people deal with)? Or maybe enjoy an after-dinner chat with your family on the patio or porch? Or go for an evening walk with the whole family after dinner. Whatever your personality, there’s an option that will suit you–and you’ll reap the benefits of nature.
As for me, I practice all the methods I just mentioned at some time or another, but my regular dose of the outdoors comes through exercising outside. It’s no secret that I highly recommend this for all! (Here’s one example: 10 Tips for Getting Fit This Year)
One study showed that walking in serene surroundings of trees and plants restored attention and even improved short-term memory by a remarkable 20%. The temperature didn’t matter, either (summer or winter). Whether it was hot or cold, people still got the benefits. In fact, the participants didn’t even have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits! Nature worked its magic even in spite of their preference.
As I said, I’m a fair-weather outdoors-lover. When I started running, I disciplined myself to run regardless of the weather. In the summer, I get started very early to beat the heat, and in the winter, I start a little later while waiting on the temp to warm up a few degrees. Though I strongly dislike both the severe heat and the severe cold, I have discovered that I get the same endorphin high regardless of how pleasant the weather is. And quite frankly, once I’m running, the weather seems to matter less and less. I have gotten a child-like kick out of getting caught out running in the rain and also in falling snow. Even as I type this, those memories bring a smile to my face.
A variety of studies find that I am not the exception. Many people enjoy exercise more in the fresh air. And the added bonus, of course, is if you enjoy it, you are more likely to repeat it. I truly believe the outdoors-factor is a major contributor to my success in building a solid running habit.
When something is so obviously good for you, and when it benefits your spirit, soul and body, shouldn’t you give it a try? It’s therapedic!
Do you love the outdoors or hate it? Do you have any tips for incorporating a little nature-time into a busy schedule? Please leave a comment!
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