Posted: February 24, 2020


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Ignoring the Boot Prints

This past weekend, my family played outside. A lot. We hiked, walked, and cross-country skiied. My sons pushed toy tractors around in the snow. We made an epic snow fort and threw dozens of wet, sloppy snowballs to our dog. At one point we sat on the front porch with our faces to the sun. We might as well have stepped out of a Nordic lifestyle magazine we embraced winter so fully.

But it was 40 degrees and sunny, so that helped. As did the fact that we just plain ignored the muddy snowpants, soggy gloves, and unbelievable number of boot-prints that covered our floor all weekend.

It was high time for some major “outside time” at our house. The weeks before had several days too cold for outside recesses for schools. Many days, we still leave for and return home from school and work in the dark or near dark. We’re all a bit tired of winter.

So, when the weekend hit, we did our best to use it. And I mean “use” it in the sense that we very much needed something out of this round of nice weather. We needed the sense of peace that comes from walking in the woods, the tired bodies that come from climbing up and down giant piles of snow, the fresh air in our lungs.

And we got what we needed, just like we always do when we spend time outside. We ate and slept better. We were less stressed about everyday problems (see the reference to boot-prints above). We had fun together as a family.

There is a growing body of evidence from across the nation and the world that backs up these personal anecdotes (proving what so many already knew): getting outside is good for you.

Everyone from public health officials, to doctors and medical schools, to education and community activists are recognizing and promoting the importance of time spent in nature for creating happier, healthier, more productive communities, citizens, and students.

If you Google “benefits of getting outside” you’ll end up with a reading list that could last until next winter. To paraphrase a few research articles: spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging benefits including reducing the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, stress, and high blood pressure. That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of physical health benefits. Then there’s the mental and emotional health benefits, the critical and creative thinking skills, the civic engagement (people care about places they spend time in, including natural spaces), the stress reduction and improved overall well-being, and so much more.

But, you don’t necessarily need to read a pile of scholarly journals or newspaper articles to understand how spending time outside can benefit you. Go outside and test for yourself. How does your body, mind, or soul respond after you walk the dog around the block, do a little gardening, or simply sit and watch on a river bank? How can you “use” time in nature to feel better?

If you’re having trouble getting started—especially after winter—take it slow. Find something that helps get over the hump, that draws you out. It doesn’t have to be big and complicated but try to find something that you enjoy and that you want to keep doing.

Some people hunt or fish. Some jog, or hike, or bike, or paddle. Some people sit and enjoy the sounds of nature. Some use the outdoors for exercise. Some people take pictures, identify plants, paint, or write. Some people look for mushrooms, birds, wildflowers, butterflies, fossils…anything, really.

The point isn’t so much what you do, it’s where you do it: outside.

This is a great time of year, as we all (nature included) start our slow, messy transition from winter to spring. So, go for an evening walk as the sun is setting, throw a last mushy snowball at a tree, watch for the return of the bluebirds and the emergence of skunk cabbage. Get out and enjoy it.

Just try to wipe your feet before you head back inside.