Let’s go OUTSIDE!

I love it when I start looking for blog ideas and I hit something that has millions of articles published. It tells me that I am on to something. When I went looking for “health benefits of time outdoors,” Google blew up with so many articles explaining what I already know from personal experience – being outdoors is fabulous for our health, and most of us aren’t spending nearly enough time out there!

The following is a collection of my personal top 5 reasons to get outside. Now that this long, snowy, and ridiculous winter has finally come to a close (you heard me, winter – COME TO A CLOSE), I hope you’ll join me in getting back out into nature! (yes, you can still go outside in winter. But it’s so much easier to get outside in spring!!)

1. Pure Joy

I feel a special something when I walk outside – smelling the fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, and looking up into the skyline. It’s a feeling of freedom, hope, and happiness. Even just thinking about a warm summer breeze can bring a smile to my face. I’m guessing you have the same feeling, at least sometimes, when you step outside!

We spend so much time indoors. Some studies estimate as much as 90% of our time is spent inside. Whether you’re in your house, in the office, in your car, or even in a shopping center, there is a feeling of being enclosed that you may not realize is there until you step out into the wide-open spaces. Stepping outside on a day with great weather, I am like Maria in the Sound of Music (Julie Andrews), singing in the grassy meadows, arms outstretched, surrounded by beautiful, gently rolling hills covered by soft greens and framed by a clear blue sky.

Even what some would consider mediocre weather has its moments – the wonderful pitter patter and that amazing smell when it rains; the beauty of a fresh snowfall; the crisp chill of a fall day – I appreciate the joy in all of the seasons, and I know I need to be better at finding ways to get outside no matter the perfection of the skies! What’s your favorite season? Think about how you feel when you’re outside on your perfect day. Pretty great, right? You can’t buy that joy, it’s free just for stepping outside!

2. Burn off Stress

No, we’re not just talking about the angry walk around the block, but maybe this helps explain even that. Walking it off is a great way to burn off anger and frustration, but why? Well, the exercise helps burn off some of those pesky “fight or flight” endorphins, but also, I think the time outside helps put things in perspective. I am one person in one home on one street, surrounded by a town, a State, a Country, and all that before we even get to the size of the whole planet. Walking outside, I see my neighbors and their families. I have even walked outside to find that a neighbor is also “rage walking.” Talk about solidarity – none of us is alone in our experience, whether it’s a celebration or a challenge!

We are also connected with each other by nature. We use the same water, absorb the same sun, and smell the same fresh air. Getting outside is important, because it reminds us that there is something greater than ourselves – something that has been here far longer than we have, and will continue to be here after we are gone. It reminds us that we are not permanent, and neither are the things that can cause us stress and frustration. Even when you don’t feel stress building up, it’s still great to get outside and enjoy the peace and calm that comes from being in nature. It helps you re-center and tackle your responsibilities and challenges with new energy!

3. Oh, the health benefits!

Folks who struggle with mobility, mental health, and other barriers which make it more difficult to enjoy time outside – we are working for you! Many HealthStar clients already have help with improving outdoor mobility, whether it be a PCA who accompanies Clients on walks or nature outings, the Mental Health team helping get Clients motivated and setting goals for time or activities outdoors (we’re looking at you, Magan!), or the Physical Therapy team working on skills that make it easier to get outside independently (and with Nissa in charge, you know you’re in good hands), there are plenty of ways that HealthStar builds additional time outside into your plans for better health! We want to make sure that everyone can enjoy the health benefits that can be gained from spending time outdoors.

The potential health benefits from getting outside are numerous enough to fill several individual top 5’s all on their own. Here, in rapid fire, are just some of the health conditions that can be treated by spending time in the great outdoors – maybe it’s not a full cure, but for these diseases or disorders, at least a reduction in symptoms, severity, or a decrease in prevalence has been linked to more outdoor time.

Addiction, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, common cold, dementia, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, insomnia, mental health disorders, mobility, nearsightedness, obesity, osteoporosis, pain, preterm birth, restless legs.

Phew. That’s quite the list, and just scratches the surface of how healthy it is to get outside. Please look into the links provided below, or Google for yourself for more information about all these health benefits. I would love to go into each, but this is only a 5-item blog post, not a dissertation. If I start getting even longer-winded than I already am, no one will read my posts!

4. Build outdoor skills with your kids

This one is my personal favorite. I love the look on the kids’ faces when we get outside for a nature walk. Maybe there is a nature preserve near you? We live near Tamarack Nature Center, which is a fabulous (and free) preserve in White Bear Lake. There are walking and hiking trails, there is a nature center for kids to explore, and there is even a sand and water area for the warm weather months. It is awesome to see the kids’ joyful faces when they get to run in the field and play in the mud. Playing outside is also a great time to learn survival skills, like which berries are toxic and what poison ivy or poison oak look like. Fishing, hunting, camping and hiking are all inexpensive ways to spend more outdoor time with your kiddos, and each presents a unique learning experience!

5. Screen-free time!

There are different viewpoints about screen time. Some people say “it’s no big deal,” and others believe that any TV is bad TV. As with most things, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. For me, personally, it is important to disconnect from the screen at times. As a mom, I also think that it is important for my kids to have plenty of “hands-on” interests. Getting out in “the wilderness” is an awesome way for our family to forget all about phones, tablets, TV, and computers. As long as I remember to put my phone on silent. 😊

My kids love being outside. I have never had them ask “can I go inside and watch TV?” We often go for a “family walk” after dinner, with the little one in the wagon and the 5-year-old on her bike. There are so many good things about this time. It is a true family connection for us – time that we spend actively together, not just staring at a device while we’re in the same room. It’s time that we exercise together without thinking of it as exercise. And it’s time when we can look at the world around us – learn about trees, grass, birds, and all kinds of other wildlife, just by being exposed to it together.

Can’t you Google that?

Yes, you can learn about these things by looking them up on Google (and sometimes we do, when we get home). But the hands-on experience of touching a leaf and feeling its bumpy veins, running your hands over the rough bark of a tree, or watching a bunny speed through a field, its little white tail just peeking over the tall grass, until it hears you and poof becomes still, blending into the scenery except for its shiny eyes and its soft and twitchy little nose – Google, even in 4k, just can’t compete.

A little wisdom from Grandma Alma

I’ll close with a tribute to my grandma. Grandma Alma is a wise woman – she says “the more often kids eat dirt, the healthier they’ll be.” She still lives on the farm where my dad was born and raised, on the same dirt that I’m sure he ate as a child. She spends plenty of time getting outside, whether it’s mowing the grass, checking the garden, or just enjoying the warm sun. She’s in her nineties now, and still going strong, so I know she’s onto something… not that I’m going to eat a fistful of dirt now, but I hope you’ll agree, there is plenty of immune-boosting power in the outdoors. Maybe we just don’t all have to do the dirt eating part, OK, grandma?

A Little Love Makes a Big Difference

While Hallmark concentrates on sales of greeting cards and florists work their fingers raw arranging bouquets, we thought it would be interesting to learn how love can help improve our health. It’s something that we often overlook when choosing to “be healthy.” We think about our diet, how much exercise we can squeeze into our schedules, how much water we drink. But we rarely consider our social relationships and interactions when thinking about New Year’s resolutions or healthier lifestyles. Many studies have shown, however, that healthy personal relationships are just as important to good health as are exercise and good eating habits.

Why isn’t everyone talking about this?

The conspiracy theorist in me says it’s because no one makes money off of my making a new friend or my relationship with a loved one. There’s no way to make that into a pill, a vitamin, or a quick fix. Our relationships are something that we have to develop for ourselves. Sometimes, maintaining a relationship can even be harder than breaking it off. But after you hear about all the health benefits of healthy social interaction, maybe you’ll be the first one to start talking about the benefits!

Where science meets those warm, fuzzy feelings

Several studies have shown that the support system involved with our personal relationships helps to build better physical and mental health. It makes sense – you feel good when you have the support of people who care about you. And it feels good to support them in return. But even a small gesture, like a smile from a passing stranger, or the “good morning” you say to that guy who works on the floor below you, can have a ripple effect that leads to improved health and well-being.

These interactions remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; a community, a town, and a whole world full of other people. Maybe that stranger will smile at someone else and pass on the good feeling. Maybe the guy downstairs was having a tough week, but now he feels just a little better.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

John Watson

The good kind of contagious

This quote is more than 100-years old, but still speaks as a reminder that we are surrounded by people who are, like us, struggling in some way. By supporting each other, we make those burdens feel a bit lighter. Sometimes we forget our trouble, if only for a minute. Even when remembered, a burden shared is far easier to carry than burdens borne alone.

Each time you smile or wave, you silently tell the person you smiled at, “you matter.” You’re signaling that the person is worth your time. And that feels good, too – we all need a reminder sometimes that we matter. I’m telling you right now – you matter to me. If I see you on the street, I will smile and wave at you, and I hope you do the same back. I’m smiling at you right now, in fact. And I bet you just smiled back. Isn’t that just the coolest!

Put it into action!

So much of our time is spent in solitude; driving alone in the car, sitting at a desk, waiting for appointments. Even when we’re together, sometimes it still feels like we’re alone. The supercomputers in the palms of our hands lead us to a paradox. We spend so much time communicating that we have no time to communicate.

This month, put your newfound knowledge about the importance of relationships to use. I challenge you to notice the difference that a smile, a wave, or a good conversation with an old friend might have on your health. If we all make an effort to show someone how much they matter, maybe we can even painlessly shed those extra holiday pounds… Hey, a girl can dream, right?

For more information about how love and relationships can help you build a healthier future, check out these resources and studies:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/

https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-abstract/109/2/186/74197