By Marilyn Halpern, MSW, LSW ~
Sunday, August 15th is National Relaxation Day. Many find the best place to heal and recharge is in nature. Yet, as time goes by Americans are spending less time outdoors. Now, it is estimated that the average person spends 90% of their time indoors or in their car. This is an unfortunate trend because spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is one of the fastest ways to improve your health and happiness.
Dr. Susanne Preston, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling instructor at South University, Virginia Beach, reports being outside is good for a person’s mental and physical health. “Research has shown that spending time in nature has been associated with decreased levels of mental illness, with the strongest links to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to increased self-esteem. Spending time outdoors is also linked to positive effects on physical health, most notably (reducing) obesity,” Preston says.
The American Heart Association has compiled eight nature activities that can increase the time we spend outdoors and improve our wellbeing:
1) Savor the Scenery. When was the last time you got up early to watch the sunrise, or ventured to the nearest hilltop to watch it set? The scenery will mentally prepare you for the morning or help you de-stress after a busy day so you’re ready for the night.
2) Wander the Wilderness. Walking is good for you, but not all walks are created equal. Cruising the urban streets doesn’t provide the same mental boost as hiking a local trail or feeling the sandy beach between your toes. You don’t have to have a specific destination in mind, either – your goal isn’t to hike X miles, but to aimlessly immerse yourself in the natural world around you. The Japanese call this “forest bathing” and it can rejuvenate a weary mind.
3) Meditate on the Music. And not the kind playing in your headphones. Leave your electronics behind and listen to the melodies nature has to offer: babbling brooks, bird songs, wind whistling through the trees and the scurrying of unseen animals through the canopy. It’s a lot more relaxing than the honking horns and text message alerts you’re used to, and it offers the opportunity to practice some meditative mindfulness in your tranquil surroundings.
4) Pose in Paradise. Yoga offers many physical benefits, like stretching the body and building core strength. It relaxes you, too, but if you surround yourself with nature’s beauty, research shows you might up the flow of endorphins and take your yoga session to whole new levels. So try skipping the gym and make a park with a view your yoga studio.
5) Study in the Sunshine. If you have studying to do, or written material to ingest, leave the fluorescent lights behind and read in the light of the blue sky overhead. Natural environments can enhance cognitive abilities, like memory and problem solving.
6) Pack a Picnic. Load a basket with your favorite healthy goodies and have lunch among the flora and fauna. Bring some companions along – a picnic is the perfect way to spend quality time with friends and family without the distractions of the modern-day world.
7) Simmer in a Spring. Hot springs have been shown to have healing effects on the body and mind, so traveling to one of nature’s jacuzzis is a great way to connect with the outdoors and soothe your soul.
8) Sleep Beneath the Stars. Now you’re getting serious. Why not disconnect entirely for a couple of days and make nature your home? Camping lets you get further away than a simple day trip allows. If roughing it isn’t your style, consider glamping, where you can maintain some of the creature comforts you love but still be away from it all. Just leave the tech at home.
The Colorado Get Outdoors Employers Toolkit has compiled great resources to help people enjoy our beautiful state. Check out their resource list: https://oedit.colorado.gov/get-outdoors-employers-toolkit
May the waning days of summer and National Relaxation Day help us focus on spending as much time as possible outdoors. Don’t forget to look up. Be safe and stay well.
Marilyn Halpern is the founder and executive director of Aspen Care Services. This locally owned business provides medical power of attorney, care management and professional guardianship services in the Denver Metro area. For more information visit – www.aspencareservices.com.
Photo credit: Dick Vogel