If you have read my previous posts, you will know that I believe getting outside is a great way to take decent breaks and find adventure. The most exciting things usually happen out in the world and being outside makes us feel really good.
This isn’t just because of the fresh air and interesting things to see (although that is part of it)…it is science my friends.
There are things in the natural world called fractals. They are geometric shapes found in nature that are often replicated in art and architecture to invoke calmness. When we look at fractals things start to happen to us on a neurological level. Studies show that our stress levels lower significantly as our production of the stress hormone, cortisol decreases. Simply looking at a picture of a natural object containing fractals (like a tree, a cloud or a raindrop), can have a calming effect. I have heard (I can’t remember where, so this may not be accurate) that this is why Apple use natural images as the default background on all their products.
Just going outside and being among nature will help you to feel calmer and happier. You also get exposed to sunlight which promotes Vitamin D synthesis. An estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency. It is difficult to achieve decent levels of Vitamin D through our diets, so exposure to natural light is a fantastic way to boost these levels. Unfortunately, because of the UKs low levels of sunlight in the winter months, supplements can be a necessity for some people to maintain healthy levels.
Vitamin D is a vital micronutrient for promoting bone growth and strength helping prevent breaks and injuries. It enables your body to absorb calcium, it helps muscle strength, may protect against some forms of cancer and helps reduce risk of infection. It can also be great for your hair, skin and nails (think how wonderfully strong your nails get when you go on holiday somewhere warm). In short, Vitamin D is a vital nutrient for maintaining your health.
BUT, I hear you cry, you haven’t mentioned MOVEMENT. That is what I really want to talk about. We know that being outside is great for mental health, reducing stress, getting your vitamins etc. Being outside and moving gets you all of those benefits, plus a boatload more. I am not going to talk about the health benefits of exercise, because we all know what they are…I want to talk about how being active outdoors makes you feel.
Studies consistently show that “Green Exercise” has a huge influence on your self-esteem. It doesn’t matter whether you partake of this physical activity in a rural or urban environment, exercise outdoors increases self-confidence significantly more so than exercise in an indoor environment. So, it doesn’t matter where you do it, as long as you get outdoors to do your exercise, you’re going to feel better about yourself.
As someone who worked-out in gyms for years: being active outside in the open air is 10,000% more enjoyable, more challenging and better for you. I used to go from an air conditioned office with sod all natural light, to my car, to an air conditioned gym with even less natural light, then home. I would feel proud that I managed to get in a workout and that I moved my body after a sedentary day indoors…but I would never feel very enthusiastic about the process. I never really enjoyed the exercise and it didn’t make me happy.
Then it all changed. I started cycling to work a couple of times a week; going for outdoor runs on my lunch hour; occasionally swimming in outdoor pools or even lakes; strength training in a field with random objects or just body weight. I LOVED it. Exercise actually made me smile for the first time. The adrenaline was invigorating in the open air. The smells and sights and exhilaration were phenomenal. This, I realised, is why those mad people who love exercise, actually love exercise.
Now, I am not saying you have to do any of the above. My triathlon training had me cycling to work and swimming in lakes, but these are not the only ways to move your body outdoors. You can go for a walk during your lunch hour. Even if you work on a business park, there will be things to see that are more exciting than scrolling through twitter at your desk. You can do the gardening or take the dog for a nice, long walk when you get home from work.
The natural world is not neat and tidy; the ground is uneven, there are bumps to destabilise you and things to awkwardly climb. Lifting a sack of compost is more challenging than lifting an equally weighted barbell. The real world is more challenging than the contrived world inside a gym…and guess what? It is free! It is right there for anyone to go and use.
Getting outside also allows you to switch off, to unplug, to get away from the online world. You can still watch Netflix on your phone when you’re on a treadmill in the gym, but not when you’re running through a wood. I am the first to admit that I am constantly plugged in. I listen to podcasts all the time, I watch Netflix on my laptop when I do the cooking, I scroll through instagram in bed. It’s awful and possibly an addiction and I may address it another time…but when I am outside on the farm taking classes or running in the woods with Geoffrey (my dog), I leave that behind. It is so liberating to be disconnected and it is so important for your mental health.
A few ways to incorporate Outdoor Movement in to your working day:
- Walking Meetings – you don’t need to sit around a conference table to take a meeting, especially if there are only a handful of you. If possible, have your meeting outside whilst strolling. It may even help the creative juices flow. Keep some comfortable shoes at work especially for this
- Take Your God Damn Lunch hour – you are entitled to a lunch break, taking said break will make you more productive (see post 1/5), making that break an active one will make you even more productive. I’m not saying you have to exercise every day in your lunch time, but just get up and go outside and do something that isn’t sitting at your desk. You’ll feel better for it and maybe even build up to a regular lunchtime run or something if that is your goal.
- Active Commuting – this is not possible for everyone, but take a look at your route to work and see if there is any way of fitting in a bit of a walk/run/cycle e.g. getting off the bus 1 mile away from work. It doesn’t have to be a daily thing; start with once a week. To make your life easier, start leaving things at work such as toiletries, spare clothes, shoes, towels etc. so you don’t have lots of cargo.
- Start/join a workplace fitness group – this can be a really great way to build relationships with people at work and the group mentality means you will all motivate each other to keep at it. At a previous workplace, a group of us would run 5k around the business park a couple of times a week. Some days hardly any of us would be up for it, but one of us would encourage the rest and afterwards we would all be so glad that we had done it. It doesn’t have to be running, but could be a team sport like five-a-side football or basketball. It helps to follow up the activity with a nice coffee/sandwich/pint where you can all sit around and feel smug about how active you’ve been :D.
I hope this inspires a few of you to go for a lunchtime stroll today.
Please share your favourite ways to get active outdoors…I am always looking for new ideas and inspiration.