Maybe it goes without saying, but we think we should all spend some time outdoors every day. Many people are increasingly cut off from nature, and we’re aware that we don’t manage to get outside as much as we’d like, particularly during winter. And when you work a 9-5 job, it’s easy to go the whole week without spending more than a few minutes outside! However, we think there are a few ways that we can change our mindset to get outside more often, so we can reap the many benefits of spending time in nature.
What are the benefits?
There are lots of proven health benefits of spending time outdoors, especially for your mental health. It is increasingly common for people to struggle with their mental health, and some of this could be linked to the high stress, urban lives that many of us live. Being outdoors has been proven by many studies to have a positive effect on your mental health, from improving concentration to reducing stress and fatigue.
Several Japanese studies have shown that spending just twenty minutes in a forest or green space leads to a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone) and heart rates, reducing anxiety in sufferers. There is also evidence that being outdoors has the ability to improve self-esteem and mood, particularly in sufferers of depression and, of course, being outside in natural light can be a great help to those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Outdoor environments are also shown to improve mental fatigue and can boost concentration and focus, an effect particularly positive for people with ADHD – but honestly, better concentration is something we could all do with! Plus, Vitamin D deficiencies are very common in the UK, especially in autumn and winter when it is harder to get the amount we need from sunlight, so making sure to spend at least half an hour outdoors in the sun can make a big difference.
7 Easy Ways To Spend More Time Outdoors
We’ve gathered a list of seven easy ways you can spend more time outdoors, and we’re going to be practical here. We live in Scotland, where most of the year round the weather is unpredictable at best. So this list will not include anything dependent on good weather, because no one needs to be told to have a picnic outdoors when it’s warm and sunny. No, this list is focused on small changes that help you get outdoors all year round, not just for those two nice weeks in June.
• Explore Your Area
Rediscover your curiosity and let your love of new places drive you outside. There is something wonderful about just choosing a direction and walking in it, exploring the roads you come across, taking what you think is a trail leading off the road into the woods or across a field. You could do it on the way home from work, or on your lunch break, or go for a wander in the evening. Just remember that getting lost and down dead ends is half the fun, and don’t focus on going anywhere. Of course, everyone has maps on their phone now, so if you get really lost, it is easy to find your way back, but this exercise should help you develop your sense of direction. You’ll always find a few hidden gems on your travels, whether a tiny park you didn’t know existed, a dirt path leading through a wood, or an unexpected green space with a river view. You might discover a new space to take your lunch in peace and quiet, or just a different route home with more scenic views. Best of all, this is an activity you can do in any weather; all you need is an umbrella, raincoat, or warm jacket.
• Start an Outdoor Hobby
Pick up an outdoor hobby that will help motivate you to get out of the house all year round. It could be anything: a solo or team sport, gardening, nature photography, fishing, geocaching, dog walking, landscape drawing, hiking or climbing, bird watching – you have so many choices! Some people find it especially helpful to join a club with other people, so they are less likely to make excuses based on the weather, but once you’ve found a hobby you love, you’ll go out for it in any weather. You might want to try out several until you find the perfect hobby to entice you out of the house. Many outdoor hobbies have the added benefit of being free or very cheap to participate in, meaning you can find something to suit any budget. Plus, you’ve got a new hobby to be excited about, and new skills to develop and improve.
• Embrace the Rain
You know the famous scene in Singing in the Rain, where Gene Kelly dances and splashes his way down a street with a huge grin on his face? Next time it rains, channel that. Go outside and embrace the fact that you will get wet. Of course, this is only a fun activity if you are close to home, and can rush in and get warm and dry afterwards. There’s nothing fun about getting colder and colder wearing drenched clothing. But we insist that there’s an exhilarating feeling that comes from being out in a storm, because rain can be majestic too. We have all gone out to play in the snow before, and often can’t wait to dash outside and stomp around in some new fallen snow – so why don’t we see rain the same way? Both leave you a bit cold and wet afterwards! Next time it starts raining, hopefully you won’t feel like moaning about the weather, but get an urge to pull on your wellies and splash about in the puddles.
• Drink Tea
This may seem very specific, but hear us out. Choose a five to ten minute activity that you don’t have to do in a specific location. Drinking a cup of tea is an excellent example, because you can carry that cup anywhere and because people often have several cups of tea a day, but not at regular times. Alternatively, it could be going through your emails, making a phone call, or just taking a short break from work. The great thing about this one is that even on the coldest, rainiest days in Scotland, we get at least 10 minutes of dry weather, and that’s all you need to grab a cup of tea and sit down outside. You don’t need to go far, if you don’t have a garden, you can always sit out on your front doorstep or a nearby wall or bench. You’ll feel more refreshed when you go back inside thanks to the change of scenery, which should have a positive effect on your focus too!
• Walk to the Shops
Yes, it’s easy to get everything we want delivered to us, but it’s good to get into the habit of walking to a physical shop. There are multiple benefits: you can support smaller independent shops in your area that don’t have an online presence, you get to actually examine the items you’re buying, and knowing you have to carry it home stops you going overboard and buying unnecessary items. It also gets you out of the house all year round, whether that’s a 20 minute round trip to your nearest shop for the essentials or a two hour trip into the city centre to find the more unusual items. If the shops you need are too far to walk, why not cycle? It often cuts your journey time in half, and you can get a bike with a basket to carry those extra items that won’t fit in your backpack.
• Be a Tourist
When you travel to another city, you often have a list of things you want to see across the city, and nothing will get in your way, especially not some rain. It’s the deadline that helps – you know you only have a few days to see everything, and you don’t know if you’ll ever go back. So what if you tried that mindset out at home? Try to make a bucket list of things to do within half an hour of your home, and try to tick one of them off every week. Don’t put it off because the weather isn’t ideal, but imagine that this is your only chance to go and you’ll find that your home is much more interesting than you’d realised.
• Be Prepared
There’s a Scandinavian saying that goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes”. We think this is a great way to live your life, because the weather is a natural thing that you can’t change or influence. So don’t let your decisions be dictated by something you can’t control, but instead focus on what you can control. If you want to go for a walk, but it’s raining, grab a waterproof jacket and go for that walk! If it’s -5 outside, put on an extra layer and get out there. If you have a base layer, a warm jacket, a waterproof coat and some good boots, you’ll be prepared for anything Scotland can throw at you.
So have we convinced you? The outdoors is great to spend time in all year round, and making that time can be so easy! Start making these little changes, and we hope you’ll feel the improvements to your mental health in no time. Nature is the best pick-me-up!