For most people, life takes place in an urban environment or suburban neighbourhood and is lived at a fast pace that can feel relentless. While trying to keep up with the demands of our hectic modern lifestyles, it’s easy to forget how disconnected from the natural world we have become.
But scientists agree that we’re simply not meant to live within the urban sprawl and there are many studies that show how connecting with nature really benefits our health and happiness. One recent study carried out by the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment & Human Health found that people who spent a total of 2 hours or more per week in green spaces were substantially more likely to feel better, both physically and mentally.
Indeed, feeling connected to nature is known to have a wealth of health benefits including relieving stress and anxiety, fatigue, social isolation and loneliness. So how can we make sure we’re getting enough of the Great Outdoors? Here are 6 practical suggestions.
1. Visit green spaces every day
It’s important to get a daily fix of greenery and sunlight. Think of it like taking your daily vitamins or supplements. You can even think of getting outside as a kind of superfood! Find a few moments each day just to pause and surround yourself with nature and restore your nervous system, whether it’s on a balcony or patio, in the garden or a local park.
However, that on its own is not enough. In order for our brain chemistry to be changed for the better, we need exposure to natural environments in the wild, and we need to be moving in it. Make a point of getting some outdoor exercise each day. Take a walk in the countryside, follow a hiking trail, explore a nature reserve or a National Park and soak up the ecosystem all around you. Perhaps take a picnic, or take a camera and capture the magic of the forest and fields around you.
2. Seek out waterside locations
It is well known that water has a calming influence on our nervous system. Seeing it, hearing it, smelling it, and being active in it (swimming, paddling, surfing, sailing etc) makes us feel good in a way that only nature can. Why is that? Because our overstimulated and over-connected minds get a chance to slow down and relax when we’re in a quiet spot outdoors.
Choose to be near a body of water a few times a week if you can. Whether it’s a beach, lake or riverside location, find a quiet spot and sit by the water. How about having your lunch break outside on a sunny day perhaps on a bench by the river? Go for a jog along the seafront before or after work? Indulge in wild swimming first thing in the morning or take up a water sport near you?
3. Watch the sun come up or go down
Be fully present when the day starts by getting up early, making a hot cuppa and watching the sunrise on your own. Take deep breaths and give yourself a few moments of introspection and uninterrupted connection with nature before you start your normal day. If you have a regular yoga practice, this would be an ideal time to incorporate some sun salutations into your routine. This set of poses dates back 2,500 years and is believed to have been practised as a literal salute to sunrise, readying the body and mind for the day to come.
If you’re not a morning person, you can use the setting of the sun at the end of the day as a chance to connect with the beauty of the natural world. Take note of all the little details through the seasons to feel more grounded and part of the universe.
4. Tune into the silence
Noise pollution is so ingrained into our daily lives that we don’t even notice it anymore. But the constant exposure to noise can cause stress, poor concentration and low productivity, disrupted sleep patterns and even hearing impairment. In a world full of man-made noises, seeking silence and appreciating quiet moments enables us to switch off from the daily din. Be warned that, if you’re not used to it, switching off can be harder than you think. In fact, many people use white noise apps to help them get to sleep!
Get used to spending time in peace and quiet by seeking out outdoor places with minimal or no sound pollution. Try some forest bathing, the ancient Japanese practice that is both meditative and healing. Become attuned to listening to silence and pay attention to the sounds of nature all around. From birdsong and animal voices to the wind in the trees, the trickle of water in a stream or the sound of ocean waves, natural sounds have had a soothing effect on humans since the age of our Neanderthal ancestors.
5. Take up an outdoor hobby
One of the best ways to ensure you consistently get out into nature is by taking up a regular outdoor activity that you enjoy. Rather than staying within your comfort zone, perhaps now is a good time to challenge yourself to try something new that might give you the impetus and motivation you need to spend more time outside.
Maybe you’ve been thinking of getting a dog? Now could be the right time to commit to daily dog walks. If you’re a runner, could you train for an upcoming event? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn stand-up paddleboarding or windsurfing? Whether you take up vegetable gardening or birdwatching, explore your local countryside by bicycle or volunteer with a nature charity, getting active outside ticks all the right boxes.
6. Buddy up with a friend
Finally, if you’re struggling to make the time, find the motivation or stick with the new routine to get outside more, find yourself an outdoor buddy and get outside together! Spending time in nature, with a friend or your partner, not only makes it more enjoyable but also allows you to reconnect both with nature and with each other.
There’s nothing like making plans with a friend to keep you showing up, even when you’re not really in the mood. Organise an outing or choose an activity you both enjoy and can do together and have fun while holding each other accountable.