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Good Old Outside Time. Is There Anything Better?

This year, I resolve to spend more time outside.  Except for the few farmers, miners, conservation biologists, botanists, or construction workers out there, most of us spend exceedingly few of our waking hours outside. This is a problem.

a wood scene outside on my house
Getting a little of that outside time.

It’s funny, for many of your most cherished memories probably took place out of doors.  Some of my favorite memories involve picking blackberries in my backyard or blueberries from a nearby farmer’s land.

I also vividly remember paddling on a lake in a community park, and how my sister and I couldn’t seem to agree on the right paddling rhythm.  My rhythm was the right one, of course.

I can see myself playing soccer in the yard with my friends and neighbor’s dad.  These outside games kept me away from handsaws with which to delimb nearby trees. They also put me in touch with nature’s rhythms.  In summer months, my family and I marked time by when bats would alight under our garage’s roof.

One change that marks the transition to American adulthood is a drastic reduction in the time we spend outside. For one thing, being outside for long stretches of time is hard to do. I use a number of strategies to venture out of doors on a consistent basis.

I bike to and from work.  My wife and I walk around town after dinner.  And some days, I carve wood or tinker with a garden that would make Julia Child frown. Combined, on a “good” weekday I might squeeze in 2 hours of time outside.

How are we to be outside when we toil away at indoor jobs for 8+ hours at a clip? Most of us drive between home and work and school and gym and back home.  None of these activities place us outside.  And unless I’m oblivious—which is possible—I see few folks walking farther than the distance between their cars and the front door.

All told, the average American adult spends 93% of their waking lives indoors—or  a sorry 8 hours—one-half of one day—per week outdoors.

But what does time outside affords us anyway? Something we miss out on when we’re cooped up inside is exposure to negative ions.  These invisible gems are found in abundance near rivers and creeks, oceans and fountains. They boost our mood and grant us a brighter outlook on life.

So there’s that. Plus, if we fail to shore up what the Kaplan research duo call our “directed attention“, we’re in trouble.  Specifically, when we concentrate on a task for a while—like focusing on our Twitter feeds—we deplete our “attentional reserves.” We become irritable and unhappy,  and our memory struggles to encode new life experiences. Not good.

Time spent in nature swiftly restores our attention, enhances our mood, and brings forth our better selves.  You could call it a home remedy for pissy mood.

We all know we could always be healthier. One pathway to health is to ensure we’re producing or getting enough vitamin D. It’s hard to avoid hearing about the risks of Vitamin D deficiency and the need to take dietary supplements. However, regular exposure to sunlight—read, being outside!—will also do the trick.

It’s worth saying that the benefits of being outside are not restricted to the individual. When more of us venture out of doors, we see each other more often.  We spot each other from hundreds of feet away using little more than one another’s signature stride as our guide.

Spending time together in the out of doors lends us a shared identity and sense of place. We can look around and think, “we share this. This is ours.” Eventually, we begin to see how we should share our locale with the more-than-human world too. This all begins with devoting more of our time to being outdoors.

Therefore, be it resolved that this year, I commit to spending more time outside. And outside is where I hope to see more of you.

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