“According to science, you really should stop and smell the flowers. Research shows that natural scents like roses, freshly cut grass, and pine make you feel calmer and more relaxed.” — MentalFloss.com
If Nicole Schnurrenberger didn’t love the outdoors before the pandemic, she certainly does now.
That’s because it really clarified how regular outings in nature are a great boost to her wellbeing.
“It’s for my mental health, that’s one of the main reasons I go,” the Calgary junior high school teacher says. “It’s about taking care of myself. Because if I’m not taking care of myself then I can’t show up as my best self.”
“I'd had a really hard year with COVID and I promised myself I would hike once a week this year.”
So far, so good.
“I think I’ve done 17 hikes so far this year,” she says just three months in.
So what does it do?
Well, there’s lots of good science to show that connecting with nature is good for the brain, body and soul, according to Mental Floss.
They offer a few reasons why being outdoors is fabulous. And it’s free.
It boosts your energy: One study suggests spending 20 minutes in the open air gives your brain an energy boost comparable to one cup of coffee.
It feels easier to exercise when you’re outside: In one study, cyclists were asked to pedal in front of green, grey and red video footage. Those who exercised in front of the green reported feeling less physical exertion and more positive moods with researchers concluding grass, trees and plans might add a “psychological energy boost to your workout.”
Your vision will thank you: We’re not making this up. Research shows elementary school students who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop nearsightedness.
It might mean you can cut back on pain meds: In one study, surgery patients exposed to high-intensity natural sunlight reported less stress and marginally less pain.
It strengthens your immune system: Scientists think breathing in phytocides, an airborne chemical produced by plants, increases the level of white blood cells required to help fight off infections and disease.
Free aromatherapy: The natural scents of the outdoors can induce a feeling of calm and relaxation.
Enhances creativity: Psychologists found a few days spent outdoors without technology saw backpackers score 50 per cent higher on creativity tests.
Natural antidote to seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Winter’s shorter days and lower light levels can trigger SAD and its associated anxiety, fatigue and sadness. But some in the medical community say time spent outside mitigates the severity, even on a cold or overcast day.
Delivers a daily dose of Vitamin D: We get 90 per cent of our Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. It’s crucial for many things in the human body, including the absorption of calcium and reduction of inflammation.
You focus better and are better: Studies show a walk in nature helps restore focus and psychologists say it makes us “better people” by “allowing us to remember and value more important things like relationships, sharing and community.”
Schnurrenberger can’t argue with that.
“Mostly, it changes my mood,” she explains of her love for all things outdoors. “I didn't feel like going for a walk today after work. I felt like going home for a nap. But never once have I said ‘I really wish I hadn’t gone for that hike or exercised.’ I have never said that. I just think it makes me feel better.”
She has also seen the magic effect some fresh air has on her students, who seem to recharge and relax after spending time outside.
“I’m sure there’s some science behind it.” she says.
Yes, there is.
An Ontario Parks blog says getting outdoors is a perfect way to dose up on vitamin N (nature.) Expect to see some scientifically-proven results.
“There’s a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced negative emotions. This includes symptoms of anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic illnesses like irritability, insomnia, tension headaches, and indigestion,” the blog states. “Research shows a link between exposure to nature and stress reduction. Stress is relieved within minutes of exposure to nature as measured by muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity. Time in green spaces significantly reduces your cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Nature also boosts endorphin levels and dopamine production which promotes happiness.”
What are you waiting for? Book a camping trip. Take a walk. But whatever you do, soak in the goodness.
“Breathe deep, as the scent of fresh pine has been shown to lower stress and anxiety. Make sure to pause and listen, as studies show that listening to nature sounds like bird songs and rushing water can help lower stress levels.”
Fit some nature into your day or make it a destination
Most Canadians have a natural affinity for the great outdoors. We live in a land that is varied with oceans and mountains and prairies in between and know all too well that much of the year for most of us is spent under a blanket of snow.
Many, refusing to be confined to our homes even during the darkest and coldest days of the year, still get outside.
Well, that’s even easier in the spring.
Ditch the heavy jackets and the big boots and take advantage of the season by stepping out to see the buds bloom, the grass green up and the air get a whole lot warmer.
Don't have time?
Combine it into your daily life; walk to run errands, opt to park further from your destination or bike around your community.
Whether you have a balcony or a yard, spruce up your outdoor space so you want to spend time outside. Plant some flowers. Take a walk around the block and make a plan to meet with friends.
Many Canadians know about Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, the Canadian couple who created the wildly popular BodyBreak, 90-second TV spots that encouraged people to get moving.
They’re still promoting the benefits of regular exercise (which can go hand-in-hand with getting outside) but point out too few Canadians do.
They say movement is “universally recognized as a pillar of preventive medicine,” yet “four out of five Canadians are still not spending the recommended minimum 150 minutes per week” getting active. Using the methods and motivations above, do your best to get outside and stay active multiple times a week. Doing so will pay off down the line and help you stay sharp both physically and mentally.