Go Play Outside

SpruceGrove_Tarryall_20090627_LAH_4725Are you feeling stressed? Anxious, sad, or helpless? Are you suffering from high blood pressure, an elevated pulse, or tensed muscles? Most of us have today off. This is the perfect time to go play outside!

A number of studies in the past few years have proven something most of us have intuitively known all along—nature is good for us. It’s why we go to the park, take a nature walk, or climb a mountain. We may get physically tired, but the overall effect is rejuvenating.

You don’t even need to actually go out of doors. Simply looking at a picture of nature makes us feel better. According to the University of Minnesota,

This is nicely demonstrated in a now classic study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery; half had a view of trees and half had a view of a wall. According to the physician who conducted the study, Robert Ulrich, the patients with the view of trees tolerated pain better, appeared to nurses to have fewer negative effects, and spent less time in a hospital. … [E]ven a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

Of course, it’s far better to actually experience nature in person. All our senses are engaged. We feel the breeze on our skin and in our hair, we smell the damp earth and pine forest. Birds sing in the treetops. The sun warms us.

Karin and Ian_WY_20090807_LAH_8047

I realize that not every part of being outside is enjoyable, although  I try to appreciate some of the less pleasant sensations. I’ve shivered in an unexpected snowstorm, gotten seriously parched on a scorching summer day, and been drench by icy cold water after slipping off a rock in the middle of a mountain stream. Mosquito bites, blisters, and aching muscles can all be part of the experience.

Yet, I find that when I don’t get outside on a regular basis, I become tired. Grouchy. Depressed.

It’s not a lack of exercise; I regularly use the treadmills and other machines at the YMCA. It’s more a lack of fresh air, sunshine, and being surrounded by God’s glory, as reflected in His creation. I need to see colorful flowers, ground squirrels, and sunsets.

12 Sunset_Cottonwood Pass-CO_LAH_0910

It takes creativity to plan a nature-related activity when the weather doesn’t cooperate. I don’t envy friends who live in hot-summer regions, where temperatures regularly soar over 100 degrees. There, you need to do your outside-ing in the early morning or after sunset.

Boettcher-DBG_LAH_6629Here in Colorado, winter is a challenge, and it lasts for such a long time here in Colorado. Yes, we get occasional nice days year round, but for months the grass is brown, the plants mostly bare, and the ground is frozen.  That’s why I appreciate the conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens (right) and the Butterfly Pavilion in Broomfield—both offer a natural space large enough to let you feel as if you’re in the tropics. Still, by the time spring arrives, I’m desperate for warm breeze and a green leaf.

LAH_4861Now that the weather is warmer, there are more opportunities for outings. I’ve spent a number of mornings out birding—both on sponsored bird hikes, and on my own. Pete and I just joined our daughter and four-year-old granddaughter for a day at a local farm, climbing into tree houses, petting goats, balancing on the ropes course.

Just getting outside isn’t enough. Playing tennis on a paved court can’t compare to standing next to a waterfall, watching the spray plummet over a cliff with snow-capped mountains in the distance. Walking down a city street is better than staring at a computer screen, but tending a flower bed, planting a vegetable garden, or even just mowing a lawn will do more for your well-being.

There is so much you can do. Have a BBQ in the backyard or at a local park. Visit a botanic garden. Go fishing. Take a bug hike. Walk the dog. Try geocaching. Go camping. Explore near-by tourist attractions. Play frisbee golf. Visit the lake. Pan for gold. Pull weeds. Pack a picnic. Climb a rock. Go to the beach. Ride a horse. Read a book in the shade. Collect rocks.

Camping w Teri @BrainardLakeCO 2005aug26 LAH 152

“No Child Left Inside” is a national movement aimed at connecting children with nature. But why stop at children? Most kids are more than happy to get outside, given the opportunity (although you may have to restrict the video games). I think that if adults spent more time outside, they wouldn’t have to be told to include the kids.

Where are you going this weekend?

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