I heard the phrase “go outside and play” every day of the summer when I was growing up. It was quickly followed up with a “be back by supper” directive from my mom. In this age of constantly being plugged in and up-to-date on all things, we need to harken back to those days.
Grown ups need to make time for outdoor play. We owe it to our kids. Study after peer-reviewed study shows that time outside makes us fitter, happier, and less stressed out. In the book The Nature Fix , author Florence Williams explains that we are all hard-wired to connect with nature. Even five minutes outside can lower blood pressure and increase a sense of well-being.
In January 2020, the Outdoor Industry Association released a study that showed only 50% of Americans spent time outside for fun last year.
The concern is that we’re becoming an indoor society – especially kids- who are constantly connected to digital devices. Most middle-aged Gen Xers like me aren’t good role models because we’re also addicted to our phones. Being stuck inside and connected 24-7 is not good for our collective mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Outdoor recreation provides time for us to enjoy each other and the landscapes around us. The truth is that you don’t have to have own a lot of gear or engage in a specific activity to play outside. You also don’t have to plan a big, expensive vacation. Loosen up, make time for yourself, and simply try to connect with nature each day.
Yes, it’s easy for someone like who me lives in the Greater Yellowstone in Bozeman, Montana, to go on and on about spending time in the nature. Rest assured that no matter where you live you can take time out every day to get your nature fix.
Here are five simple ways to connect to nature no matter where you live:
Visit your local park. Botanical gardens, local parks, nature centers, waterfronts – there are so many ways to experience the outdoors. Check out the National Park Foundation‘s #findyourpark tool. Nature is closer than you think. In fact, just open your door!
Take a walk around the block. Thoreau says “an early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.” You might be surprised what unexpected joys of nature you find on a quick walk around the block. Even if you live or work in a dense urban setting, experiment with being mindful and see if you can see any signs of spring or the changing seasons. Walking has been called a “superpower” by neuroscience researchers who have shown it reduces stress, increases fitness, and lifts our spirits.
Step away for the computer, go outside, and just look up. Anne LaMott gives this fantastic advice: “Go Outside. Look Up. Secret of Life.” Take notice of the clouds or weather. That subtle perspective shift can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Check out photos of your favorite natural setting for five minutes. Stuck at work and can’t get away? Take a deep breath and look at photos of that special place. Research shows that viewing photos of nature can help still the mind and help us relax.
These five simple tips can help support your wellness journey. So go outside and play and don’t come back until supper. Make time to connect to this amazing planet we share. And at the very least, get a plant.
Heather White is a nationally-recognized sustainability leader and nonprofit executive, and expert on conservation law and policy. When she’s not writing or helping clients, you can catch her on a local trail in the Greater Yellowstone. She is the President & CEO of Heather White Strategies, LLC and former President and CEO of Yellowstone Forever, past Executive Director of EWG and Senate staffer. She’s a frequent spokesperson in national media and has significant experience serving on national nonprofit boards.