In Japan, Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” A concept coined in 1980, it upholds the healing and restorative benefits of spending time in nature. In Norway, Friluftsliv literally means “free air life.” It is a term that is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature.
Better Health is Right Outside Your Door
The names and references may vary from one culture to another, but there is one common truth—spending time with nature naturally heals and rejuvenates us. According to a study conducted by The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS) and published by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2001, we spend only 7% of our time outdoors. That is only one half of a day per week. This same study shows that 87% of the time is spent indoors and 6% inside cars and automobiles.
Another survey conducted by Right Management—the talent and career management expert within Manpower Group—found that only 1 in 5 employees in North America takes lunch breaks away from their desks. This “indoor culture” has such a serious impact on people’s well-being that a number health conditions are being attributed to it. In the book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder.” He explained that spending more time indoors makes us feel alienated from nature and perhaps more susceptible to negative moods and reduced attention span. So if you’re feeling a little low lately, you may want to cut back on your series binge-watching and spend more time outdoors!
Benefits of Spending Time Connecting with Mother Nature
- Improves overall mood and disposition. Communing with nature helps decrease fatigue and restlessness. The open space offered by nature allows us to breathe and relax. This is because our Subgenual Prefontal Cortex—part of the brain associated with mood disorders—gets less active after walking in nature for 90 minutes.
- Helps improve focus and sharpens short-term memory. Nature’s restorative energy helps curb mental fatigue and improve memory retention.
- Helps boost immune system, lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation. Our brain and heart need fresh oxygen in order to perform routine tasks. Indoor air may contain pollutants and allergen that can harm our system. Besides letting fresh air indoors, why not go outside. You will immediately feel the difference.
- May help protect our vision. Excessive exposure to computer monitors and artificial lighting has been proven to cause a number of vision problems. Going outside lessens our exposure to glare and artificial lighting.
- Inspires creativity. Artists, painters and poets have drawn so much inspiration from nature. While you may not need to channel this energy to pursuing creative pursuits, this can help you improve cognitive functions.
Push the Excuses Aside
If spending more time outdoors is a challenge due to a busy schedule, you can incorporate the following steps to your daily or weekly routine to increase the time you spend outdoors.
- Adjust your alarm clock thirty minutes earlier than the usual and spend the extra time taking a leisurely walk. Notice the skies – is it bright and sunny or cloudy? Appreciate any green patch you may find along the way. Be mindful of the sounds around you.
- During lunch breaks, try staying away from your desk and step outside. If there is a park near your office, take your lunch with you and enjoy that much-needed break. It’s like having a picnic.
- Instead of going to the gym, try running or jogging outdoors. The changing terrain and surface outside offers more challenge thereby enhancing the strength of your connective tissue. It’s also a good money-saving option as you can save on the gym membership fees and dues.
- Develop an outdoor hobby – Try gardening, hiking, surfing, photography or camping. There’s a host of outdoor hobbies that you can try depending on your interests.
- Organize picnics or al fresco meals with family and friends – Make the time you spend outdoors more special by sharing it with your loved ones.
Investing in our well-being should be a priority. Not only does it improve the quality of our life, it also helps us be mindful of our surroundings and appreciate the wonders nature has to offer. So go ahead, step outside. Better health is just right outside your door.