All too often I hear and read how important it is to be outdoors. I encourage my kids to play outdoors and I try to be outdoors as much as possible. However, “as much as possible” is often very little. I spend too much time indoors, from sleeping to working at the computer.
So, while I’m aware of the problem, the question remains what I can do about it. And this is where this post comes in. I looked around to collect some ideas on not only why I should spend more time outdoors but also how I can do this.
Why I should sit outdoors right now
There are a couple of reasons why being indoors isn’t good for me.
Number one is the air quality. I posted earlier about off-gassing and the general need for cleaner air inside our homes. Even though I open my windows regularly I remain exposed to any fumes inside my house. A regular break from them and a deep breath work wonders for my general health.
Number two is my static and compromised body position indoors. Although I exercise regularly I’m still much less active inside than I am outdoors. Just an example, when I had my phone record my walking activities at a campsite, by lunchtime I had reached my daily goal of being active for 60 minutes. I never achieve this inside.
Number three, nature acts as a restoration to our mental health. There are multiple factors to this, from a contemplation about the vastness of nature to a stress reduction because of reduced mental stimulation. Whatever angle you want to apply, being in nature has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety and improve mental health and well-being.
How I can move my life outdoors
Now, it’s clear that I need (and want) to spend more time outdoors. I wonder however how I can actually achieve this in my everyday life. And the excuses are plentiful: my work involves a computer in an office; it’s raining outside and it’s too cold (actually in Australia I often hear, rightfully, that the sun is too strong and it’s too hot); I need the car to go anywhere; I need to work around the house.
All these excuses (and I’m guilty as charged on all of them) are easily tackled.
I’m lucky enough to be able to move around with my computer. There is no reason why I can’t pick up my laptop and sit outside. I know that this ability is a luxury and that most office jobs require a stationary set-up. But, the good news is that, with increasing awareness of employers that the indoors aren’t as great for their employees’ mental health, there is more room for flexibility. Just ask for a meeting outside, a lunch break in the park, or the laptop on the rooftop. And if that doesn’t work, bring nature inside.
And even if the weather doesn’t look like it, you can still be outdoors. The saying “there is no bad weather just bad clothing” says it all. If it’s raining, use an umbrella, sit under a canopy, put a hood on. If it’s cold, dress warmer. It’s simple, really.
In Australia however, I need to stretch this rule for bad weather because the sun can be damaging and it can get too hot. As much as I love basking in the sun on a warm (not hot!) summers day, I know the UV radiation isn’t doing my skin any favour. Even shade provides limited protection from it. The only solution is proper clothing. It seems counter-intuitive but when the sun is high, long sleeves and pants offer the best protection from the sun. And loose garments allow the skin to breathe and cool down. But if it gets too hot, the indoors remain the best protection against overheating.
One of the best ways to spend more time outside is to walk more. Although I live in a car-centric society I try to walk as much as possible to as many places as possible. Walking increases not only my time spend outside but also my fitness, my sense of direction and orientation, and it reduces my CO2 footprint and my car’s mileage.
My number one excuse against spending more time outside is that most of my life happens inside. I work in the house, I sleep inside, I eat inside, I relax … inside. I have begun to seriously question my life of indoor living and my need to spend so much time inside the house. As a family, we have started to take regular camping and hiking trips. But without changing our house and life set-up, the inside of the house remains the most important reason against living outside.
I know that none of these excuses justifies any time spend indoors. And as more and more research emerges about the importance of outdoor living for mental health, I need to reconsider my excuses and spend more time outside.