The Benefits of Being Outside
Although the Northern Hemisphere is now deep into October and the COVID-19 pandemic is still ranging across the globe, one simple, time-tested tool for helping to improve our mental health is . . . just taking a walk outside, particularly in a natural landscape, if possible.
With the above-mentioned challenges still presenting obstacles for many people, the Northern Hemisphere has also crossed the line between the “light” half of the year and the “dark” half. In other words, after the Autumnal Equinox in late September, we experience less and less daylight until the end of December. In some individuals, this can produce a diagnosable disorder called “Seasonal Effective Disorder,” (SAD) whereby a person may experience feelings of depression due to the lack of sunlight.
Although SAD can be the subject of its own blog, today we are going to focus on the benefits of being outside. Daylight is fading away – true – but being outside still has many benefits.
In her book, “Forest Bathing,” author Julia Plevin explores some of the wonderous benefits of being outside. “Psychoterratica,” or the negative psychological effects of being disconnected from nature, remains a real problem, especially in post-industrial countries such as Europe and the United States.
“Forrest bathing is the practice of intention connecting to nature as a way to heal,” Plevin writes. “Humans have evolved in nature,” she continues. “We’ve spent 99.9 percent of our time om the natural world, and our physiological functions are adapted to it.”
During the Spring months of 2020, most cities and states issued mandatory lockdowns, or, as they were called, “shelter-in-place” orders.” Then, many people complained about not knowing what to do. Job layoffs stated, and the situation looked bleak. And although it might appear to be overly simple, going out and talking a walk can reduce stress as well as improve a person’s overall mental health.
“It’s been scientifically shown that spending time immersed in nature reduces stress, lowers heart rate, lowers cortisol levels, decreases inflammation, boosts the immune system, improves mood, increases the ability to focus, jump-starts creativity, increases energy levels and makes us more generous and compassionate,” Plevin says.
So, being outside in nature does many things for our mental health.
“Forrest bathing is not a deep wilderness experience,” the author writes. “If you live in or near the woods, just step out your front door. On the other hand, if you live in concrete jungle, you can benefit from nature by walking a park or next to a canal.”
Finally, as noted above, getting outside can have a positive impact on our psychological well-being, and, as the year 2020 moves toward its chaotic end, talking a walk may be the simplest thing you can do to help yourself.
Plevin, J. Forrest bathing. Ten Speed Press. New York, NY.