We Spend Too Much Time Inside, Online
Many baby boomers spent years working inside – in an office building, in a retail store, on a manufacturing floor, or perhaps in our homes. Unless you spent your career as a farmer, forester, or football coach, you probably spent years indoors, under fluorescent light, rarely seeing the light of day while you toiled away.
For many people, retirement isn’t that different. We may still be spending most of our time inside – still staring at a screen, even if now for enjoyment or social connection. Americans are notoriously bad at being outside. It’s not our nature to be in nature, and that could be making us age more quickly and less comfortably than we would if we got out for regular walks and other outdoor pursuits.
Take a Cue from Our Neighbors in Norway and Japan
In 2005, American author and journalist Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” as a negative consequence of having less contact with the natural world. Louv noted that obesity and mental health issues were rising as the amount of time we were spending outside in nature was falling.
While “nature deficit disorder” appears to be a global concern, some parts of the world seem better positioned to restore the balance between time spent indoors and out. Norwegians routinely practice friluftsliv, which translates to “free air life” and time spent appreciating nature. In Japan, shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” – simply spending time alone in a forest, and immersing yourself in the sounds and smells, is said to be incredibly therapeutic and healing.
Of course, not all of us live in areas with Norway’s dramatic scenery or near a serene forest in which we can be alone with our thoughts. But in most parts of the country, there are parks, beaches and walking trails that beckon us to come out and play, relax and enjoy some fresh air.
The Benefits of Getting Outside
Most researchers agree that there are multiple benefits to be gained by talking a walk, going for a bike ride in the park, strolling on a beach, or otherwise getting out of the house or office for some time every day. In addition to the obvious benefits of physical activity like weight loss and improved flexibility, getting outside has multiple benefits for our mental health as well.
Here are some of the benefits of being outside mentioned most frequently by health care professionals:
- Stress relief
- Improved concentration
- Increased mental sharpness
- Stronger immune system
- Improved creativity
- Improved mood and mental health
- Better sleep
What to do Outside for the Biggest Benefit
Physical activity in nature has a double benefit. Your body gets some exercise, and your brain gets to turn off for a bit. Hiking, cycling, walking, birding and golf are good, active options for spending time in a more natural setting.
Less active options to consider are fishing, gardening, or just enjoying a picnic lunch under a shady tree. If you don’t live near a park or path, a nature center, arboretum, or even your local greenhouse would be a great place to spend some time with plants and green, growing things.
Still Working? Bring Your Work Outside With You
A shady spot under an umbrella or tree and an internet connection aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Explore the area outside your office for places to enjoy some time away from your desk, while still being productive.
Make a point of spending at least a little time outside each day – by bringing your coffee out on the deck and listening to the birds or enjoying a leisurely evening stroll after the sun has begun to set. Of course, the more time you can devote to communing with nature, the greater potential benefit to your health and happiness.