by Sheila Cluff, fitness expert, owner, and founder of The Oaks at Ojai
Three cheers, winter is a thing of the past! In California we’re always thankful for rain, but too much was too much. Now that the days are “lighter, later, longer,” as a friend likes to say, it’s time to get outdoors and get (or stay) fit. Need more reasons to get out and enjoy a beautiful day or spend time outdoors? Just read this!
Green is the color of the season and it’s time to give Mother Nature more credit. Get outside to increase your brainpower, decrease frustration, cope with bouts of depression, and tune up your metabolism. Does getting your fitness “fix” in the open-air matter? Yes, it certainly does. While the medical documentation that being outdoors calms us and refreshes our minds and bodies is still in the “teenage” stage of research, there’s enough to make me certain that being outside exercising does a body good.
For example at the University of Illinois, Frances Kuo, Ph.D., found that children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) function better if they spend part of their day outdoors in nature. The results demonstrated that ADHD symptoms improved in those kids who were outdoors in a natural setting. (Read more about Dr. Kuo’s work: American Journal of Public Health, September 2004; vol. 94. News release, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., working with Dr. Kuo, provides research that supports key findings. Humans, regardless of age, can only concentrate for so long without becoming mentally tired, the same way physical muscles get tired from physical work. It was reported that a person has to renew “mental muscles” by breaks or periods of what these scientists call “involuntary attention.” Time spent in nature is measurably more “attention-restoring” than indoor leisure activity like television watching, video games, and so forth. It is interesting to know that Dr. Faber believes that the brain mechanism that regulates attention and concentration is the same one that regulates a person’s self-discipline.
What does that mean to moms and dads, grandparents, caregivers, and kids? It means that you do need to get outdoors and play, take mental breaks whenever you are house- or office- or school-bound for more than a couple hours. What can you do in ten or fifteen minutes to distress, improve concentration and revitalize your mind and body?
Here’s a list to get you started:
Wander in a public garden
Sit on the grass or a park bench
Climb a tree or a mountain
Relax in your backyard
Jog or run in place, as long as you’re outdoors
Walk around the block
Volunteer to weed at a community garden
Help a shut in with her garden
Take a fitness walk
The fitness center or exercise class has importance in our lives, especially those times when we cannot get into the great outdoors. However with all the proof that nature’s greenery can calm and comfort humans, you’ll want to forego everyday indoor exercise and get outside. This is, especially if you’re stressed or feel frazzled. The time you spend getting “unfrazzled” helps you beat the blues, refocus on the goals and desires of your life, and lets you concentrate better when you do get back to work.
Just a quick reminder on outdoor exercise. Be sure to wear layered clothing so that when you do get warm or cool you can adjust what you’re wearing. Always smooth on a film of sunscreen, on your kids too, and wear a hat. Many people forget to put sunscreen on their arms, hands, and even the tops of the ears.
Start slowly if you plan to walk outdoors to get your “fresh air fix.” You might want to begin with a stroll of a few blocks and work up, over a period of three to six months, to 45 minutes of vigorous walking. The great part of walking outdoors for the mind/body connection is that you can do it anywhere you are. You can walk outdoors while traveling, away on business, on holiday and even during lunch break.
Nature is free, the boost you get won’t increase your calorie intake like sugar and caffeine, and it’s totally without negative side effects. Share the news that green is good and just another way to stay fit for life!