Imagine yourself outside. The sky is bright blue, the sun is sparkling and the air feels crisp and cool.
Maybe you’re walking along the beach, feeling the warm sand on your bare feet. Perhaps you’re riding your bike in a park, surrounded by hundred-year-old trees and singing birds. Or maybe you’re pinching the dirt as you dig through the backyard to plant a few flowers.
Being outdoors at a park, the beach or even just a few feet from our doorsteps can feel both relaxing and invigorating.
In fact, research has shown that participating in physical activity in the great outdoors can do a world of good for your psyche.
When analyzing ten studies with 1,252 participants, UK researchers found that outdoor activities like walking, gardening and bike riding helped boost the mood and self-esteem of participants.
Not only that: The mood-boosting benefits can begin after as little as five minutes. (You can learn more about “green exercise” here.)
So what are some ways you can take advantage of these findings? Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, offers several suggestions below on “going slow by going green.”
1. “Spend time in wooded areas or green parks,” she says.
Certainly, all places in the great outdoors are not created equal. Stepping onto a busy, bustling street with cars whizzing by can easily give you a headache, and dampen your mood (especially if the area is filled with pollution).
So seek out the truly “green” spots in your area.
For instance, I love NYC, but some streets, with their honking horns and sewer-like smells can get overwhelming. But step into Central Park, and it feels like you’ve just stepped into a different, calmer and tranquil world. It’s absolutely beautiful.
If you don’t have access to a park or wooded area, Hohlbaum suggests visiting “a botanical garden or even a flower shop.”
2. Be mindful and grateful.
Pay close attention to the small stuff, to the little treasures in your surroundings: the trees, the flowers and even the outlines of each leaf, she says.
“It is a great exercise in concentration and relaxation as you become absolutely present to the current moment.”
Hohlbaum also cites Mark Coleman’s advice to recite a mindful meditation every day. Coleman is the author of Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery. “Saying a prayer of gratitude as you observe nature can make you more aware of the true gifts the planet provides us every day,” Hohlbaum says.
3. “Connect with the earth.”
Gardening “is another really great way to literally dig into the dirt and feeling connected with nature,” Hohlbaum says. “Plant seeds or even a small garden in pots on your windowsill. Watch them grow and, with them, your confidence, connection and calm!”
You can learn more about Hohlbaum on her website.
What outdoor activities do you enjoy? Does being outside boost your mood?
Photo by Gregg O’Connell, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.