Next to unplugging, one of my favorite things to talk about is spending time outside. In fact, I believe the combination of unplugging AND spending time outside may be the answer to many of life’s ills. I know that combination works for me.
During the summer, I spend most of my time outdoors. As a summer camp director, my job requires that I walk around camp, sit around campfires chatting with kids, kayak across a pristine mountain lake, dance on our dining porch, and sing songs in our outdoor amphitheater. It’s a rough life, I know, but someone has to do it, right?
The rest of the year, my duties are not so outdoor-oriented, and my life looks much like many other working parents’ lives: a lot of time in my car and most of my working and leisure time on my computer or phone. Sadly, the only time I spend outside is walking my dog or going for a run, both of which are sanity-savers and the best moments of clear thinking that I get.
When I drive up into the mountains for the first time each summer, the smell of pine trees and the crisp, fresh mountain air are a welcome relief from the heat of the Central Valley. I am saddened that many people who live a mere 45-minute drive away from the bliss of the mountains and lakes of the Sierra National Forest have never even visited. Perhaps they’ll stumble upon my post, read about the many benefits of getting outdoors, and plan a trip to our beautiful mountains.
In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” as a way to describe the “human costs of alienation from the natural world.” He recognized that “human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.”
Louv’s 2011 book, The Nature Principle, extended the conversation to include adults. And, if you do a search about getting outside, you’ll discover a whole new field called “Ecotherapy,” which refers to “methods of cultivating the health benefits of being in nature.” As we humans have become ever more connected to the cyber world, we have, sadly, become detached from our natural one.
As we enter the beautiful season of summer, when getting outdoors can be even more accessible due to weather and vacation schedules, I’d like to encourage us all to make getting outside a priority.
If you need some convincing, here are seven compelling reasons to unplug and get outside!
#1 Provides Stress Relief
“When it comes to alleviating stress, there’s just something about being in our natural element that’s hard to beat, says lead study author Catharine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.”
#2 Gets You Vitamin D
You may have heard that we’re all Vitamin D deficient now that we’ve gotten so good at using sunscreen. Apparently, we need a bit of time in the sun with our (gasp!) skin not protected with sunscreen: “[Dr. Michael] Holick says ‘sensible sun exposure’ is key, since D production only occurs on unprotected skin. If you know you’re likely to get a mild sunburn after 30 minutes outside without sunscreen, venture out for about 10 to 15 minutes and then put your sun protection on, he says. Expose arms, legs, abdomen and back if you can, for max vitamin D production.”
#3 Promotes Better Sleep
“There are several reasons why nature could be helping people get their snooze on. For one, it’s been shown that people who live near parks and natural green spaces are more likely to engage in moderate and vigorous physical activity, and even light exercise helps people sleep better. Secondly, research suggests that people who take walks in nature are also reaping mental health benefits like less depression and lower stress levels — things that also contribute to a good night’s sleep. Finally, spending prolonged time outdoors helps align your body to natural day- and night-time, which is useful for strengthening the hormone signal melatonin that’s responsible for those feelings of sleepiness you get in the evening.”
#4 Encourages More Exercise
“Research conducted at the University of Essex showed that the color green, such as that found on trees, grass and other plants in nature, makes exercise feel easier. The small study tested cyclists pedaling in front of green, gray and red images. Those exercising in front of the green showed less mood disturbances and reported that they felt lower exertion during their cycling. Plus, other research showed that those who exercise outside are more eager to return for a future workout than those who stick to the gym.”
#5 Boosts Brain Health
“Just looking at a natural scene activates parts of the brain associated with balance and happiness. In a study at South Korea’s Chonnam National University, fMRI scans showed that when subjects saw images of mountains, forests, and other landscapes, they experienced heightened activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (which is linked to positive outlook and emotional stability) and the basal ganglia (an area that’s been tied to the recollection of happy memories).”
“Taking in a bit of nature can help your brain in more than one way. For starters, logging outdoor hours may increase concentration skills. One study compared concentration between children with ADHD who played outside, versus those who played inside, after school and on weekends. Kids who spent time in green, outdoor spaces reported fewer symptoms of ADHD, even when the exact same activities were compared.”
#6 Fosters Creativity and Imagination
“Taking a stroll can also increase creativity. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that walking increases creative production. And while walking anywhere — whether through the woods or in a mall — is beneficial in that it prompts creativity, researchers found that the actual act of spending time outside also influences novelty.”
#7 Promotes Happiness (Decreased Anxiety and Depression)
“Studies show sunshine, fresh air and physical activity all encourage good moods and reduce tendencies toward depression.”
In my own research on the impact of summer camp on happiness, I found that kids at camp are, indeed, “Happy Campers.”
There are about a billion different ways you could have spent the last five minutes, and you spent them reading my post. Thank you! If you like Sunshine Parenting, please subscribe to get an email update each time I post (use box in right column of my blog). Follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter for links to articles and ideas about camp and parenting. Have a happy day!