This guest post is by David Csonka, of Naturally Engineered.
Ask people if they’d like to be able to spend more time outdoors in parks or natural areas, and most would say “yes.” Sadly, all too often what we want to do and what actually happens doesn’t always line up. As the urban landscape expands more every year, many people face dwindling opportunities to enjoy being outdoors, especially in green areas like parks and forests.
This is a shame because it has been recently discovered that outdoor exercise has an immediate and remarkably positive effect on mental functioning including factors like mood, self esteem, and stress levels. Further, a positive nature experience amplifies the beneficial effects of exercise, much more so if near a body of water. That short jog around the pond at the local park might be even more healthful than you thought!
You get a substantial benefit from the first five minutes.
With the economy in what seems to be perpetual turmoil, the burdens of financial trouble, and long working hours have driven personal stress levels to all-time highs. This makes it more important than ever for people to get outdoors as much as they can and participate in some kind of physical activity. Whether it is gardening, or sports, or just a walk around the neighborhood dog park, the key is to get out of the house and move around. Some will say that they don’t have time to play outdoors. Free time is certainly a precious commodity, but it is encouraging to know that being outdoors for as little as five minutes can produce a beneficial effect.
Pick an outdoor activity that you enjoy, and just get out of the house.
You don’t have to hike the Appalachian Trail to reap these benefits. Nor are the benefits from outdoor activity just for busy adults trying to make it in the working world. Young children and adolescents have just as much to gain from exposure to natural areas in terms of their cognitive functioning and development. With an increasing emphasis on child safety and parents’ tendency to keep children close to home, they are less likely to spend time roaming around in the woods or parks near their neighborhood.
This is unfortunate because the early years of childhood are incredibly influential on a young persons long-term development, not just for brain development but also in habits and behavior. It was determined that children who live in a home with more natural elements tend to have a greater ability to stay attentive and moderate hyperactivity. This is incredibly significant when we live in a time where more and more children are being diagnosed with AD/HD every day.
Children need to play and explore their world.
A child that develops a fondness for the outdoors at an early age will acquire the developmental benefits of this type of activity, and will also likely choose this type of recreation later in life. Not only will they benefit from the demonstrated effects on their mood and wellness, but they will probably instill those habits in children that they have as well. By taking a few steps and prioritizing the time we have each day to allow outdoor activities, it is possible to change the cycle of our behavior and create long term positive change for our families.
One of my favorite activities to do each weekend is to go to the park near my house and hike on some its ten miles of wooded trails. This is not a particularly strenuous exercise, but after an hour of walking through the forest my body is curiously left feeling both energized and relaxed at the same time. The real pleasure however is that which I feel internally in my mind and spirit.
The solemn quiet of the woods brings a perceptible feeling of peace upon me. I believe I can almost feel my blood pressure and pulse rate dropping while I sit on a fallen tree, listening to song birds. None of the stress triggers like emails or phone calls are there to get me riled up, so what is left is a quiet void – filled in by the art and music of nature.
To me, this is a form of meditation, an activity that has been demonstrated to improve a person’s psychological well-being. The resulting stress reduction affects telomerase activity in immune cells, which has the potential to promote longevity in those cells and for humans in general.
Leave the office behind: it will be waiting there for you when you return.
Engaging in this type of activity is simple. It doesn’t require a special five part DVD training program, fancy workout clothes, or a personal trainer. You just need to disconnect for a little while from the world of emails and machines, and reconnect with the natural world that so many people have forgotten is out there.
So, I’ll leave you with a challenge. On at least one day during this coming week, find thirty minutes from your day and go somewhere outside. Try to find a place that is quiet, maybe with a pond, or flowers and birds. Turn off the smart phone and try to forget about everything that waits for you at the office. Trust me, it will be there when you return. But perhaps, when you do return, you will bring a sense of peace and wellness back with you.
How often do you get out to enjoy the natural world around you?
David writes about evolutionary health, fitness, and nutrition at Naturally Engineered. His goal is to help people to reach their full potential through meeting their bodies’ natural expectations. Connect with him at Twitter @thrivenaturally.