Why Spending Time in Nature Can Change Your Life

Let’s take a look at why spending time in nature can change your life.  I remember when I was a kid and my mom would get mad at us for watching TV.  She would yell at us to turn it off and go outside to play.  At the time I felt angry because after school me and my siblings loved watching “Dark Shadows’ ‘ and there were no DVRs in those days :(.

But mom was right…it makes you feel better

I’m glad my mom encouraged us (ok–forced us)  to go outside because it really does make you feel better.  When we used to take vacations we’d spend summers on the lake. We’d hunt for tiny frogs, bugs, and other strange creatures for hours. We’d also spend hours swimming. I was one of those kids who never wanted to get out of the water.

Glacier with snow at bottom and

When I was a teenager we moved from lush, green, Michigan and its spectacular lakes to Kalispell, Montana. It wasn’t a bad trade off because Kalispell is surrounded by the beautiful Flathead Valley Mountains.  We were close to  Glacier National Park, another wonder of the world – not one of the seven, but spectacular nonetheless, and my all time favorite– Flathead Lake. So suffice it to say that growing up I spent a lot of time outdoors.  

When I was married, we lived in San Antonio for seven years. I truly loved the people there – they were so fun and hospitable, but I really missed my mountains and beautiful lakes. The heat and humidity almost did me in and spending limited time outside during five to six months of the year was really -well, hot and humid and unbearable.   I was so happy  when we moved back to Sacramento where we were only a few hours drive from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe.

I love the outdoors, but

I love the outdoors, however, over the past 11  years, when I started working full-time, I wasn’t getting enough outdoor time.  When it was cold I used that as an excuse. When it was blazing hot in the summer I’d use that as an excuse.  To be fair, I did make trips up to Lake Tahoe occasionally, ski once in awhile, or hike with my very zealous hiking friends. So I wasn’t a complete “never goes outside kind of a loser.” 

 Lately I’ve upped my game. It helps that I’m working from home so I can walk around my neighborhood which I find quite charming ,or head down to the river walk-also quite beautiful. When I worked for the state, I would walk, but it wasn’t visually attractive. Dismal aptly describes it, so I would get the energy boost, but not the visual beauty found in a more natural setting.

The good news is I’ve expanded my home office. I put a chair (recliner) in front of my backyard screen door so I can look outside at all the trees, enjoy the breeze, and listen to the sounds and smells of the great outdoors. I’m loving my expansion!  

Let’s dive deeper into why spending time in nature can change your life

I read an article from Harvard Health Publishing called Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature and I’ve summarized some of their research on the  benefits of being in nature:

It helps reduce stress (which for me translates to overwhelm thinking about all my “to do’s”), anxiety (another one of my favs) and depression. 

Do you ever wonder why you feels so great after a long walk? Harvard’s study explains what happens to the brain after a 90 minute walk outdoors.  The activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where those negative thoughts love to roam endlessly, tends to calm down after a nice walk in nature.  

I’d been feeling a bit sluggish…

I’d been feeling a bit sluggish over the last two days. Yesterday I did some yard work, which I don’t “love” but it did give me a boost.  Today, I went for a 30 minute walk and I felt much better.  Being outside in any active way is good.  I just find forward movement (walking) works best for me.  

Oh the calming sounds of nature..

Listening to the calming sounds of nature, according to the Harvard study: “…can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight or flight response.” Music to my ears! ??

And as I mentioned in my blog post on walking, there’s so much beauty in nature, taking it all in helps calm the mind and chase negative thoughts away.

Scientific benefits of being outdoors

In another article, called The 11 Scientific Benefits of Being Outdoors,  it says being outdoors can boost your energy.  Sometimes if I’m tired, I’ll head out for a walk instead of a nap and I really feel great afterwards.  Apparently it can give you a bigger boost than drinking a cup of coffee.  Ok – I love coffee so I’m going to do both – drink my morning coffee and walk 🙂

The article goes on to say that spending time outside can help improve your kid’s eyesight.  I also checked this out on WebMD in an article called: Does Playing outdoors Benefit Kids’ Vision?  Their study showed that kids who spend more time doing outdoor activities, (as opposed to kids who spend more time  indoors), decreased the risk of developing nearsightedness. I hate to say this, but that did not work for me. I’m extremely nearsighted :(– it must have been those long cold winters in Michigan and Montana! 

More benefits

Being outside boosts your immune system by breathing in phytoncides. Phytoncides, are produced by plants, and increase your  levels of white blood cells, which helps fight off infections and diseases.  I remember as a kid, playing in the dirt, the mud, sandboxes, in the woods, in the sand on the lake and besides being so much fun, breathing all those beautiful smells was boosting my immune system. Not a kid anymore? No problem.  I think we all need a good roll in the dirt to celebrate boosting our immune systems! 

And don’t forget the vitamin D

You can get your daily dose of vitamin D from being outdoors.  My friend (thank you Lois), after reading my article on walking, told me I should have mentioned how walking outdoors boosts your vitamin D levels and she was right. We get vitamin D from being outside. It helps absorb calcium, prevents osteoporosis, and reduces inflammation.

You can receive the life changing benefits of being in nature for as little as 20 to 30 minutes a day. You choose the activity. Walking, hiking, biking, sitting outside, or going to a favorite nature setting – anything outdoors, will provide you with all the benefits I’ve described.

Your challenge is…

Your challenge is to spend more time outdoors. Although the study says 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week or spending a weekend outdoors, I know for me, getting outside everyday, walking, sitting in my backyard, hiking, or going to the river lifts me up and makes me feel more at peace with the world. And that’s a good thing.

Leave a comment below or email me: kathy@requiredtoinspire.com

See you next Thursday 🙂

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