The Importance of Being Outside

I spent the entire day today at Chain O’ Lakes State Park, about 35 minutes northwest of Fort Wayne, Indiana. If anyone reading this is near that area, I highly recommend the place. I can’t remember the last time I took a whole day to just enjoy nature, spend time alone, read, and breathe. This park couldn’t have been a better place for that.

For 5$ an hour, I rented a kayak and cruised around on Sand Lake, a good-sized lake surrounded by green forests, hundred of lily pads and sunbathing  turtles. The lake connects to 9 other lakes through river-like channels through the woods. I couldn’t decide which scenery was more lovely, the sunny open lake or the shaded channels filled with bird songs (and the occasional mosquito, but hey.. what do you expect. Next time I’ll remember my bug spray!). The embedded video is a small clip of my exploring, the nature sounds mixed with the quiet sounds of the paddle were very relaxing (the video itself may be quite boring but there is a quick hello from me at the end :)). I then spent an hour or so reading on the beach, followed by a total of a mile and a half trail run on two of their “rugged” trails. With as flat as Northern Indiana is, rugged is sometimes used lightly. Hiking a mountain in California, to me that is rugged. But it was a nice workout nonetheless.

However, what surprised me about the park is how few people were there. “What a great find” I kept thinking… but also “I’d be here every day if I were closer”. I’m not complaining at all, I loved the solitude and that I didn’t have to run around anyone on the trails. But I think that many people just don’t think of going to a state park on their day off, or after work even. Everyone is running off to the next errand, the next kid that needs picked up, running home to catch a TV show they can’t miss. Going outside for no reason at all is often not at the forefront of things to do, but it really should be.

There is a multitude of research out there touting the importance of nature to our well-being.

In recent years, numerous experimental psychology studies have linked exposure to nature with increased energy and heightened sense of well-being. For example, research has shown that people on wilderness excursions report feeling more alive and that just recalling outdoor experiences increases feelings of happiness and health. Other studies suggest that the very presence of nature helps to ward off feelings of exhaustion and that 90 percent of people report increased energy when placed in outdoor activities.

People who take part in conservation projects report subjective health benefits, ascribed to being outdoors and to feeling part of a greater system connecting beyond the individual. Such projects can help overcome social isolation, develop skills, and improve employment prospects, as well as provide the known benefits associated with exercise.

A 2009 study by Kaplan et al showed that walking in the park at any time of the year has benefits for both attention and memory: after spending an hour in nature both increased by 20 per cent.

You can feel better and more relaxed from just taking a short walk outside in as little as 15 minutes. I’d love for everyone to be able to take an entire day and go to a park but I know that that is not always realistic for someone with young kids or an extremely demanding work schedule. But whenever you can, remind yourself to step away from the tv, set down your cell phone, step outside, take a deep breathe and remember that you are a part of this world that we live on, and that that is such a beautiful thing.