We are already nearing the end of the first month of the new year, and just out of curiosity, how are those resolutions you made on New Year's Eve going? Thought so.
Year after year, many of us resolve to floss more, take those vitamins, sleep better, manage our stress better, become more positive, lose weight, lower our blood pressure, find happiness or become more focused at work. After about a month, we tend to fall back into those former, muuuuuch more comfortable habits that require a whole lot less work (and money) than a gym membership, a trip to a specialty vitamin store or investing in memory and boosting apps. What if you could tackle all of those resolutions and more with one very simple solution? Would you do it? What if it cost you nothing and gave you everything you need, plus a few surprise bonuses? Well there is one very simple, free, and believe it or not, fun, solution. GET OUTSIDE!
Although getting yourself outside won't help a much with flossing, that's on you, it does offer some pretty astounding health benefits. New research supports the idea that going outdoors and putting some distance between you and those incandescent or fluorescent lights you're sitting under, and shutting down that phone you can't stop staring at, is actually really good for your health! Harvard University says that research in a growing field called ectotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. The University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people across multiple countries to see whether nature really does provide a health boost, and the answer was a definitive, yes! The findings were pretty amazing. Researchers stated, "We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration." Wow. Pretty amazing. In addition to all of that, "forest bathing,"(also known as shinrin-yoku), which is a slow, mindful walk through a forest has been shown to significantly reduce the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Just a 20 minute walk in the woods and you're a new guy or gal.
So it turns out that nature is about the closest thing to a happiness and wellness cure-all a person can find. It's a prescription with zero side effects and no copay. If you're feeling a bit tired and groggy, don't reach for that fourth cup of coffee or an energy drink at 2:00 p.m., step outside for some natural vitamin D (don't forget your sunscreen) and a breath of fresh air. Recovering from surgery? Head outside for your physical therapy, it will speed up your healing time and make you feel better both physically and mentally. If you need to stretch those legs and give your brain a break from work, grab a pair of binoculars and hit a nearby trail. You'll be amazed at how great you'll feel once you unplug and take a minute to look around. Also, learning new birds, plants, trees and animals in your area will help with your memory. Searching for a bird you can hear but not see will help you focus on something other than the frustrating day you're having and you'll feel yourself instantly decompress. It will also give you a feeling of satisfaction and success once you track it down, identify it and add it to the growing list of new things you've learned about nature. Don't forget to tell your friends all about it. Sharing nature with others is a big deal, and your friends will thank you for the healthy new lifestyle you've just introduced them to, no resolution needed.
If you've always thought nature exploration and enjoyment is only for those who "went to school for biology," you couldn't be more off the mark. Nature is here for everyone. It's like Santa dropped a massive gift on the world with a tag that said: To: everybody, From: Santa. That means everyone can participate and enjoy it in their own unique way. If you need a place to start, or a push in the right direction, contact a local organization that specializes in nature walks like the Audubon Society or a local, county, state or national park with docent-led walks. Once you start, you'll have a very difficult time stopping.
As humans, we have a biological need to connect with nature, and many of us are suffering from "Nature Deficit Disorder" by staying indoors and being bogged down by excessive screen time and over taxing our brains by multitasking. Why not break free of all that noise and try something new? Do your own experiment to see if you actually do feel better after a little forest bathing! See if you have unparalleled focus after spending time on a trail while bird or butterfly watching. The results may surprise you.
2020 can still be a great year, despite those already forgotten resolutions. If you're serious about getting healthy, both in your mind and body, the solution you seek is right outside your front door.