Why You Should Make Time for Nature in Your Busy Schedule
Have you ever dealt with a difficult situation by going for a walk outside to clear your mind? Ever found yourself smiling simply because you felt the sun on your skin?
This past weekend, I spent time outside hiking, biking, paddle boarding, and running. As time progressed, I noticed a peacefulness take over my mental chatter; I even communicated better with family members by the end of the weekend. I wondered if I had the outdoors to thank! After doing some quick research on ways that nature protects our minds and bodies, I realized that I’ve been taking these benefits for granted. Read on to find out why you should make time for nature in your busy schedule!
There’s a plethora of research that supports nature’s ability to improve our health and happiness. Time in nature can boost cognition and coping skills, prevent disease, reduce stress, and even increase our life satisfaction! Many of these improvements are possible with consistent time in nature. For a strengthened immune system, brightened mood, and sharper memory, schedule outdoor time in your life. Take your lunch break outside, go for a hike, bike with family, walk on the beach, or simply sit on a bench or in the grass at a park. Science practically guarantees that these things will improve your life!
What benefits can I receive from being outdoors?
People of every age and ability can receive the benefits of improved health and well-being. When children spend quality time in nature, it has been shown to improve academic achievement, boost healthy development, support physical and mental states and improve ability to assess risk. It’s also showed increased self-esteem and creativity. In some cases, being in nature can significantly reduce symptoms of ADHD.
Access to nature is related to lower levels of death and illness, stress reduction, a greater sense of well-being, and greater social capital. Social capital is the functioning of society with a shared sense of identity. In communities with a strong social capital you can observe acts of kindness - strangers help each other with directions, open doors for each other, or return a lost item. Merely having the ability to go outdoors may cause your community to be more compassionate.
Spending time in nature can improve mood and restore mental fatigue. It can also help people control symptoms and even recover from depression and anxiety (alongside conventional medicine). This works for other physical and mental health disorders too!
Research shows exposure to nature can decrease blood pressure and heart rate and reduce respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Immune systems are boosted by the outdoors as white blood cells increase in the body. People who spend time outside also tend to have decreased rates of obesity, likely because being outside tends to make exercise more enjoyable.
Are you looking to age gracefully? One study showed that when 70-year-olds spent time outside every day, they had fewer age-related complaints (pain, problems sleeping) at age 77 than those who didn’t. Even more significant, being in nature has also shown to increase life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, and mindfulness.
How much outdoors time do I really need to fully benefit?
Nature should be part of an everyday routine for a healthy life, comparable to taking medications, exercising, and drinking water.
Spending 20 – 30 minutes a day in nature can significantly reduce stress levels. The body decreases a hormone called cortisol (frequently known as the “stress hormone” – which increases when you cram for finals, juggle two jobs, or are being chased by a bear…) by nearly two times compared to people who spend no time in nature.
If you can’t get daily doses, research shows that getting 120 minutes (or 2 hours) in nature per week can improve well-being. This can be one long hike on a weekend, two one-hour walks in the park, four half-hour lunch breaks outside…you get the point!
While being active in nature is the best way to make sure you receive benefits, sitting on a park bench or in the grass does give us clear benefits when compared to someone with no outdoors time. According to one study in Finland, merely sitting outdoors in nature help people feel rejuvenated. This happened even faster when walking. Who knows – maybe someday your doctor or Nurse Practitioner will prescribe you 120 minutes a week of exercise in nature!
The additional good news is that you don’t have to go on a big wildlife safari or travel the world to experience nature and receive its benefits. You simply have to step outside!
What are some things I can do outdoors, and how do I fit them into my schedule?
7/10 people admit they’re losing touch with nature. Before we say we don’t have enough time, check out these statistics: U.S. children and teens consume 7 hours of screen time per day and adults use screens (outside of work) 5 hours a day. While it’s recommended that screen time is limited at 2 hours a day, I would challenge you decrease this even more, as increased screen time is correlated to mindless eating, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity (a third of all Americans are obese).
Treat being outside just like you would any other part of your healthy lifestyle. Do you set yourself a reminder on your phone to take your medications? Do you create a goal for how many times you will exercise throughout the week? Plan nature time the same until it becomes… second nature (ha!). Be creative – there are so many ways to fit nature into a busy schedule! Find out what works best for you and embrace it.
For example, you might find that all you can manage is a 15-minute walk in the park during a break from work. That’s okay! On the other hand, you might find that getting up early to see the sunrise once a week fills you with peace. Still others might only be able to fit outdoor time on days they are not working. Know that this is okay too – just aim for 120 minutes total.
My family has long known that we have the most memorable times when we experience nature together. Lately, we play lots of pickleball– but we also go on hikes, bike rides, and play volleyball together once a week. We consider outdoor time a major component of our get togethers - eating outside when possible and being active. It has made a huge difference in our resilience, as proven when we each inevitably have a phase of difficult times in life.
Ways to fit nature into your lifestyle:
Walk your dog outside or take a family walk daily
Rent kayaks or paddleboards for a few hours
Schedule a hike with a friend instead of happy hour
Instead of driving to your next errand, such as the post office or the grocery store, ride your bike
Choose a restaurant that is within walkable distance from your house for date night
Pack a picnic and have dinner in the park
Take yoga outdoors! Look for studios or organizations that offer outdoor yoga. Many public libraries offer outdoor classes!
Play pickleball, volleyball, kickball, or shuffleboard outside with friends
Walk along the beach during sunrise or sunset, or build a sandcastle
Check out your local city for a list of walking guides and tours (Cleveland’s walking tours can be found at www.thisisclevelnad.com, https://toursofcleveland.com, and www.clevelandgatewaydistrict.com/takeahike)
Plant a garden or landscape your yard
Rollerblade or skateboard in the park
Explore local parks by choosing a new one to visit every week (the Cleveland Metroparks are great for this!)
Plan your next vacation around nature! Visit Hocking Hills for the majestic hikes, book a trip to the Adirondacks in New York to kayak on the lakes, or head to the Smoky Mountains for the amazing views.
Check out local reviews for outdoor activities in your city, such as TripAdvisor or Yelp
Don’t forget about winter activities! Winter is a great time to hike.
Have a snowball fight
Host a snowman building contest
Put on your ski gear, then roast hot dogs or marshmallows over a fire pit outside
Go skiing or snowboarding
Make snow angels
Ice skate (Clevelanders, check out Wade Oval and Public Square for great opportunities)
Can I get benefits from being outside, even if not in nature?
Though all exercise is beneficial, if you want to get the highest amount of benefits, exercise in nature.
One study from the University of Michigan found that when people took a memory test and then walked in nature, they did 20% better than those who took the same test and then walked in the city.
Being outdoors in the city does not give you the same benefits as going outdoors in nature, unless you can find a park or other green space.
Where can I find parks or trails near me?
Check out https://findyourpark.com/ or https://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm to search for parks by state, or find state parks with information about where to hike and camp at https://www.americasstateparks.org/find-a-state-park/.
You can also go to your state’s visitor’s website for a list of things to do outside. Many organizations host fairs, conferences and events to promote nature celebration and conservatory (check out https://www.nrpa.org/ for events and education related to nature).
Want to do more? Check out https://www.nature.org/en-us/ for ways to get active in protecting the wildlife in the United States, including understanding climate change, protecting our land and water, building healthy cities, and providing sustainable water and food.
The Moral of the Story
Being in nature for any amount of time is beneficial to your mind, body, and soul. If you want to reap the most benefits, aim for 2 hours a week of exercise in nature. Get family, friends, and coworkers on board by creating opportunities to meet and enjoy the outdoors. You will be sure to notice an improvement in mood, memory, health, and happiness in no time!
“Study Nature, love Nature, stay close to Nature. It will never fail you.” - Frank Lloyd Wright
What is your favorite thing to do outdoors? How to you make time for nature in your busy schedule?