Those of you that know me know that I would much rather be outside than in. I enjoy the sunshine, working in the dirt for a garden, the mulch around the flowers, and the paths in the woods. I feel so blessed when I can spend time with friends and our horses on a ride through the woods. What is it that you enjoy that gives you a boost in your energy?
As I looked a little further, there’s a fair amount of research that talks about what we gain when we spend time outside. The University of Minnesota shares, “Research reveals that environments can increase or reduce our stress, which in turn impacts our bodies. What you are seeing, hearing, experiencing at any moment is changing not only your mood, but how your nervous, endocrine, and immune systems are working. The stress of an unpleasant environment can cause you to feel anxious, or sad, or helpless. This in turn elevates your blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension and suppresses your immune system. A pleasing environment reverses that.”
So, when we enjoy time outside, the activities of digging in the dirt or walking in the woods can reduce the stress in our life. We can let go of the “to do” list and savor the sights and sounds around us. Think for a minute how the sounds change from your office or your home to the woods, or a walk in the park - which one brings you relaxation? Nature helps us heal and soothe our bodies and souls.
Nature has a way of restoring our mood also. We can go from stressed and depressed to relaxed and more positive after spending time outside. “It provides a respite for our overactive minds, refreshing us for new tasks.” Mindful Walking is another way to incorporate nature into our days. During the day when we need a change of scenery, at lunch, or after a taxing event, try taking a walk and focus on what three things you can see, hear, or feel. What do you pay attention to with each step, and not just run to the next event? Putting a pause in our day can actually help us to be more productive, as we can refocus when we return to work.
Next, the beauty of the color palette is really astounding. Look around at the shades of green, the variety of shapes and sizes, and the depth of color around you. With children, try a matching game with the leaves or even a page from a coloring book to color with leaves and flowers from the woods. Additional research indicates that trees were calming to adults and that adult responses to plants are influenced by their childhood interactions with nature. The more time they spent outside as a child, the more positive their attitudes towards nature as an adult.
As the school year draws to a close and many home routines change, please consider making the outdoor classroom part of your summer routine. There are many parks and trails in our community that offer a new opportunity for exploration and observation with each trip. If your children are grown, commit with a friend or neighbor for a regular walk or hike. Don’t just read about what being outdoors can do for you, try it and see how your experience might change your perspective!
Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family & Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.
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