Updated: Jul 26, 2021
My kids need to play outside. Their teachers recognize the switchy legs or the foggy gazes and take the whole lot of them outdoors to play multiple times a day. It's built into the school schedule, and smart teachers have read up on the research that more breaks creates more effective learning.
I typically spend less time than my guys outside. It's not part of my regular schedule and I don't play four square or tetherball anymore. But I know that when I get outside, even for a few minutes, I'm happier and more productive.
Benefits of being outdoors
Do you spend time playing outside? Sun on your face and wind in your hair. Enjoying the freedom. The fun. That joy isn't just in your head. Researchers have found that getting out into nature has a multitude of benefits: preventing illness, reducing stress, and promoting well being.
In a study of regular smokers, researchers found that simply looking at pictures of nature reduced the number of cigarettes smoked when compared to viewing urban scenes. Living near green spaces is associated with lowered risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and reduced mental distress. Nature is good for us. Time to get outside!
How much time for the most benefit?
We're all so busy it can be challenging to think of adding in one more thing to a long list of to-do's. How long do we need to spend outside in order to start reaping some of the those sweet benefits?
A 2019 study examined the amount of recreational time spent outdoors (at parks and beaches, in the countryside and woods) and self-reported physical health and life satisfaction.
The benefits to health and happiness started to accrue at 120 minutes. Two hours a week. And the benefits accrued whether the time spent outside included physical activity or not. No need to break a sweat to reap a reward according to this study. And the 120 minutes didn't need to be consecutive to add up to big rewards. Benefits peaked at durations of 200-300 minutes a week.
So how do we get the benefits of being outside as adults?
"I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put together." –John Burroughs
Plan to play outdoors
If time outside isn't a part of your regular weekly routine, create a plan. You might need a few things to make being outside more pleasurable. Basics like sun and insect protection, water, and a good snack can make a big difference in your comfort and enjoyment.
A 20 minute walk most days of the week would get you to 120 minutes a week, but there are a multitude of other ways to add up those minutes and start feeling happier and healthier.
watch the sunrise or sunset
read a book in a chair or hammock, along the coast or in the shade of a tree
fly a kite, model plane, or go up and away yourself in a hot air balloon
start a new hobby like birdwatching, nature photography, archery, geocaching, plein air painting, fishing, or horseback riding
study the outdoors: learn about geology, meteorology, astronomy, or botany
take up a paddle sport: kayak, raft, canoe, SUP
have a picnic or BBQ
collect shells, rocks, feathers, leaves, acorns, pinecones
take a day trip to a state or national park (free if you have a 4th grader!)
find a u-pick farm or orchard and harvest some fresh produce or visit a farmer's market to stroll and look at what's in season
volunteer: many parks are looking for docents to talk to visitors, observe wildlife, clean beaches, remove non-native species, work on trails or restore plantings and habitat
take a class and learn about local habitats and animals, how to play golf, practice yoga outdoors, ski (water or snow), or take up sailing
go on vacation with a plan to explore the outdoors
go mural hunting in a new neighborhood
visit gardens and wineries
relax outdoors by skipping rocks on water, building sandcastles, or watching as clouds or waves pass by
exercise outdoors: walk, run, hike, bike, swim, snorkel, rock climb, surf
take your other hobbies outside: knitting, crochet, pottery,
Commit to try spending a few more minutes outside this week and see what you notice. Do you feel a little refreshed, a little clearer? Let me know what you try and how you felt in the comments below!