Written by Amy Scalia
Over the past year especially, it’s been nice to rediscover the simple pleasures of being outdoors. Fresh air, blooms and beauty abound, and lots of sunny hours to be active. Spending time outside is one of the easiest ways to improve your physical health, mental health and overall quality of life. But as temperatures dip and days get shorter, it’s not as easy to maintain this back-to-nature lifestyle.
The urge to keep getting outside comes naturally when you find types of activities that you look forward to and enjoy. Meet a friend for a walk, hike or bike ride to stay accountable to your well-being while getting in some social time, too. Gardening is another engaging outdoor activity, as you get to also enjoy the fruits of your labor — sometimes quite literally.
But it’s all about progress not perfection. This is about establishing a routine, so start with short activities done more frequently. Eventually, you’ll reach a comfortable cadence of activity, and this self-investment will become a way of life, and a way to do your best for the world around you. It also gives you structure, building forward-moving habits, and creates momentum that carries you through dreary cold days when you’d otherwise stay under the cozy covers.
Connecting with Nature
Outdoor yoga also has many advantages, ranging from health benefits to the simple enjoyment from a change of scenery. While many yogis prefer to practice with a mat, others opt out of one when practicing outside. Touching the earth with bare hands and feet can provide a means of Earthing or grounding, which is said to have health benefits ranging from pain relief to optimizing “prana” or vital energy.
Similarly, walking meditation is another increasingly popular outdoor activity. The idea of walking meditation is to focus on the journey, not the destination, while soaking in your natural surroundings. You can recite a short mantra in sync with your feet striking the ground — helping your mind to stay focused and your energy meditative.
Engaging Mind and Body
Whatever your activity, your body might be enjoying it more than you realize. Research shows that those who exercise outdoors burn up to 7% more calories than on a treadmill at the same speed. Scenery and distractions of your surroundings keep your mind busy, and as a result, there’s a greater chance you’ll end up exercising longer than if you were indoors. Need more evidence? Studies show that kids are twice as active when they play outside. Just reflect on that younger you, spending time outdoors, for that motivation to spend more time with nature.
There are mental wellness benefits, too. Taking time to nurture oneself provides a sense of balance and self-esteem, which can directly reduce anxiety and depression. Spending time in nature and natural light can improve your mood and further reduce stress and depression.
Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is made in the skin when is exposed to sunlight. Studies suggest that Vitamin D may have protective effects against everything from osteoporosis to cancer to depression to heart attacks and stroke. You need about 10-15 minutes of sun several days a week, however, too much sun can damage your skin, so don’t forget your sunscreen.
Whether you try a flow in the forest, get grounded in the grass, meditate as you consciously meander, or spend more time with your family and loved ones outside —your mind and body will reap more benefits than you can ever imagine. But we’re aiming for progress here, not perfection. Dip your toe into some new adventures, focus on doing something every day, try something new every once in a while, and see what calls you back to the truly great outdoors.