With all its challenges, 2020 also came with a few positive lessons learned. For one, many of us have a newfound appreciation for time spent outdoors. From dining to shopping to family gatherings, we’ve taken many traditionally indoor events out into the open air. And we are no worse for the wear. In fact, in some ways, we may be better off.
“Being outdoors improves your mood and mental focus,” says James Coupe, PsyD, psychologist in private practice and clinical director of St. John Vianney Center, a residential center in Downingtown, PA. “Participation in outdoor activities helps you feel energized and restored,” he says.
Not to mention the effects on awareness. “Mindfulness requires you to exercise awareness and acceptance, which demands psychic energy and attention,” Coupe says. “Being outside facilitates this experience because there are so few distractions,” he says. Instead of connecting to our devices, we find connections to the sound of water lapping on the shore, the warmth of sunlight on our faces, and the energy we feel when we breathe fresh air, all of which support mindfulness practice.
Being in nature also relieves stress. Studies show people who spend time outdoors have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who spend more time inside.
And outdoor activities help us socially distance, and therefore, continue to safely engage in things we might not have otherwise been able to do.
How much time should I spent outside to reap the benefits, you may wonder? Recent research published in Scientific Reports says at least two hours a week. Good timing; as the days get longer, they present even more opportunities for sun and fresh air.
With summer on the horizon, here are some creative ways to take traditionally indoor activities outside:
- Work outside in a hammock. Take advantage of work-from-home hours and move your workspace into the fresh air. If you prefer to work at a desk, set up a mini-work station on a deck, driveway, or patio.
- Create your own personal drive-in. Set up an outdoor projector and watch a movie under the stars. No problem if you don’t have a screen; hang an old white sheet on the side of your house or garage.
- Do yoga in your yard. Take mindfulness practices like yoga, meditation or tai chi up a notch by practicing them in natural surroundings. Head to a beach, park, or lakeside. You can get even closer to nature by doing these activities on a paddleboard, floating on a river or bay.
- Have a picnic, any meal of the day. You may think of lunch when you hear the word picnic, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy breakfast and dinner outdoors, too. You can picnic as formally or informally as you’d like. Set up a candlelight bistro table and enjoy a romantic gourmet meal, or eat breakfast sandwiches barefoot on a blanket.
- Rub a dub dub (or shower). Nothing beats an outdoor shower on a warm summer day. Provided you have a setup that offers sufficient privacy, energize yourself by taking your shower in the fresh air.
- Work out al fresco. There are lots of physical and mental benefits of exercising outdoors. Depending on your workout style, find a boot camp, jog through a local park with a friend, or go swimming in a lake. Want to stick close to home? Take your strength training routine into your driveway and ask a few workout buddies to join.
- Read a book on a blanket in the grass. Soak in the sun and get some immune-boosting vitamin D.
- Sleep under the stars. Set up a tent and sleep outside in the backyard. Take a laptop with you and enjoy a movie night.
- Adopt a new outdoor hobby. Use the motivation to spend more hours outside to plant an herb garden, paint landscapes, or take some natural photographs.
- Set up an outdoor game. Play badminton, kickball, or croquet, or set up a card table and play your favorite board game outside by a fire.
- Get together with friends in a park or nature preserve. You’ll enjoy a combination of the beautiful surroundings and good company.
As humans, we are designed to be outdoors. Our brains are wired to respond to all the smells, sights, and wonders you experience outside. And because it forces you to slow down and unplug, nature offers the perfect backdrop for mindfulness. As you engage in more outdoor endeavors this summer, soak in all that you smell, hear, and see. When you boogie board in the ocean, notice the sound of the waves and the smell of the salty air. On a walk through the woods, make it a point to appreciate every animal, flower, and bird. Outdoor living is good for more than social distancing and benefits us, body and soul.