By TERESA LOOY
Okay, the title is admittedly tongue-in-cheek, but recent studies really have discover a very simple action that we can all take to live healthier. Regardless of where we live, how much money we have, or what disabilities we face, this easy feat has a good chance of enhancing your physical health, mental health, emotional well-being, relationships, and ability to focus.
What is this supposed miracle cure?
Spend time outside.
Yup, that’s it! Just go outside, in nature as wild as possible, as often and for as long as you can. More exposure to nature seems to be more helpful, but even a little bit – indoor houseplants, tree-lined streets, the sound of birdsong through an open window – has incremental benefits.
The 30×30 Challenge
For the month of May, I’ve been following the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30×30 Challenge to try to get some of those benefits of nature exposure. If you’ve been following, I wrote about it here and here. Basically, the idea is that for 30 days straight, you spend at least 30 minutes each day outdoors in nature. It hasn’t been easy: our lives are no longer designed around nature, and neither are our cities. But completing this challenge has encouraged me to seek out new spaces and pockets of nature in my city-centre life, as well as getting more active (walking home from work has been the best way to get in my nature time!). It’s made me be more deliberate about getting outside, and a bit less lazy. Just like children need outdoor recess or they get restless, adults need something similar.
I got outside for at least 30 minutes for 28 out of 31 days, missing only three days! I did a lot of walk-commuting home from work, as well as going for walks out of the cottage. The most fun things I discovered? A new-to-me walking path along the river near my home; taking a horseback trail ride; biking the entire length of Waterfront Drive; canoeing in the evening on a placid lake; and playing with circus toys and a volleyball at The Forks with my colleagues! As you can see, some of these are more exotic, expensive, or harder to access, but the vast majority of my 30×30 challenge was achieved by getting out into “nearby nature”. I bet you too have more than you think! Did it benefit my health? Maybe. I certainly didn’t get a cold all month! I also noticed that I felt happier and refreshed after getting outside – and the more unplugged and extended that was, the better.
To the Research!
I’ve spent many years researching the relationship between spending time in nature and what is known academically as “pro-environmental behaviour”, or what you might know as “being green”. Yet when I was researching for this article, I still discovered more than I thought could exist on the benefits of nature, especially for human health. I’ve still only scratched the surface of what’s out there.
How much time do we spend outside?
It’s tough to get good statistics on this. The David Suzuki Foundation suggests that Canadian youth spend less than an hour outside each day. That’s about the same as adults, who in a study in the prestigious journal Nature, reported spending 93% of their time indoors or in enclosed vehicles, meaning that wespend about 100 minutes a day outdoors in some form – and 1,339 minutes indoors!
What can getting outside do to benefit me?
Overweight and obesity, depression, attention-deficits, exhaustion, low self-esteem – these are all conditions that some claim can be helped by spending time outside. Please note that this blog is not medical advice, nor should you substitute spending time in nature for seeing your doctor if you’re suffering! That said, nature exposure may help to prevent or work alongside other medications and treatments to increase your health and wellbeing.
- Ease depression: Rutgers University did a study and found that being around colourful flowers could ease depression and lift moods
- Another study found that being out in nature increased energy and a sense of well-being – even just 20 minutes a day boosted vitality! However, wilder nature, versus just being outdoors, provided more benefits.
- Studies done in the US and Finland recommended a minimum “nature dose” of five hours a month, or a 40-50 minute walk regularly, for its benefits related to attention, mood, and short-term memory
- Other research has found that nature exposure reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. This is significant because stress has a host of long and short-term negative health effects on the body.
- In a meta-analysis (a study looking at the results from a number of other studies), nature exposure for a paltry five minutes was found to boost mood and self esteem
I Need Ideas and Inspiration!
Then you’re in luck! We have lots of both.
We’ve done the 30×30 challenge as a workplace before:
Oprah fan? Even she’s weighed in on the benefits of nature!
Throughout the article, I’ve linked to studies and articles beyond Green Action Centre – I recommend giving them a read! Below are three excellent resources to take your reading even farther.
For more on connecting Canadians with Nature, read this excellent and readable report from Parks Canada!
For information on Nature Deficit Disorder, read “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv, or just check out this quick CBC article.
For resources to get your kids out in nature, try the Children and Nature Network.
How will you reap the benefits of nature today? What’s your favourite spot to refresh yourself outdoors? Let us know in the comments below!