The average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Child Mind Institute
Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, referred to this as “nature-deficit disorder.” Louv believes it is one reason for rising rates of depression and anxiety in children.
Children are not the only ones spending too much time indoors these days. According to research, American adults spend more than 90 percent of their lives indoors.
If this is true for you (as it often is for me), here are three factors to help motivate us to get off the couch and go outside.
Nature is beautiful. A starry sky, a sunset, flowers, a bird in flight all induce a sense of wonder in us. We are soulful creatures and beauty is good for the soul.
Nature is relaxing. Studies show that spending time in nature calms the nervous system and reduces levels of stress hormones. This makes our immune systems stronger (very important in the age of COVID), helps improve our sleep, and lifts our mood.
Nature speaks to us. Plants and trees release beneficial chemicals and provide a pleasant sensory experience. Humans evolved to be outdoors; it’s part of what makes us human.
Research tells us that the biggest impact occurs in the first five minutes of being in nature. So, whether you have a few minutes or a few hours, get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.
Affirmation: I love experiencing nature.
Coaching questions: What motivates you to get off the couch and go outside? What does spending time in nature mean to you?
Embracing the great outdoors cuts down on mental rumination and can boost well-being in the process. Erman Misirlisoy, PhD
This morning my intuition told me to skip the gym and spend time in nature. I exercised my body by walking. I believe I also enhanced my overall health by reducing my mental workload and taking a break from making decisions. Although my intuition is usually spot on, we now have the research to prove the benefits of spending time in nature.
Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, writes, “Spending time in nature certainly makes us feel healthier, but until now the impact on our long-term wellbeing hasn’t been fully understood. We gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people to see whether nature really does provide a health boost.”
The team analyzed how the health of people with little access to green spaces compared to that of people with the highest amounts of exposure. They found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits. It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, and increases sleep duration. People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. They also determined that exposure to green space significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress.
The research team hopes that their findings will prompt doctors and other healthcare professionals to recommend that patients spend more time in green space and natural areas. Whether it’s a visit to a park, a walk on the beach, or a hike in the woods, make it a priority to regularly spend time in nature.
Affirmation: I spend time in nature.
Coaching question: How important is it to you to spend time in nature? How does being in nature make you feel? If you are rarely exposed to nature, what’s keeping you away?
People talk about caterpillars becoming butterflies as though they just go into a cocoon, slap on wings, and are good to go. The reality is, caterpillars have to dissolve into a disgusting pile of goo to become butterflies. So if you’re a mess wrapped up in blankets right now, keep going. Jennifer Wright, author
Wright is right (I just had to do that). According to Scientific American, while in the cocoon, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. However, certain highly organized groups of cells knowns as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. These discs use the protein-rich soup to fuel rapid cell division forming wings, antennae, legs, eyes, etc.
Nature gives us signs and examples to help us with most of our dilemmas. The majesty of a sunrise or sunset give us hope for another day. The first green shoots of spring give us courage as we crawl out of winter. Now, for those of you who may be wrapped in a tear stained blanket wishing that life was different, the butterfly is another powerful metaphor. The butterfly’s past experiences tell us that life will not only be different, it will be beautiful and, one day, you too will soar as you emerge from your soggy blankets.
Affirmation: Nature speaks to me when I listen.
Coaching questions: What metaphors of nature speak to you? If you feel like you are dissolving in a cocoon of grief, use the story of the butterfly to visualize your recovery. Then, share it with another cocooned person.
Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away once in a while. Climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. John Muir, naturalist and author
I finally took myself to the beach today. I live about two miles from Crescent Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I hate to admit it, but I rarely get there these days (writing a book will do that to you).
On those rare occasions when I do step foot on the sand, my inner voice says, Get going, you’re walking too slow or You can do another mile. Today, I said to myself, Look at the blues of the ocean and Go ahead, pick up that beautiful shell and Wow, look how that pelican just swallowed his catch! It was low tide and I was literally walking on a carpet of shells. What natural beauty! Today I was at the beach to “wash my spirit clean” as Muir suggests.
Affirmation: Nature is a gift we are meant to open.
Coaching questions: How long has it been since you’ve really enjoyed nature? How does nature speak to you? What will you do this week to allow nature to wash your spirit clean?
There’s no doubt that as the sea ice declines more and more bears are going to starve to death. Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International
Today is International Polar Bear Day, a day set aside to consider the plight of polar bears internationally in the wake of man-made climate change. According to experts, the only solution for the long-term survival of the polar bear is to address climate change.
Even though polar bears are only active thirty-five percent of the day and resting for the remainder, they burn an average of 12,325 calories a day. They are like big cats, predatory carnivores with high energy metabolisms. Seals are their primary source of calories. Amstrup’s study projected that continued decline in sea ice would reduce the global population of bears by two thirds by 2050. You may not care about polar bears, but what’s happening to them is a symptom of all of nature including our children and grandchildren.
Affirmation: I care about nature.
Coaching questions and request: Is the climate crisis important to you? What can you do to make a difference? Become informed by the scientific community.
Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings. Victor Hugo, French poet
We have friends visiting from Boston, MA who are birders. It is their great joy to observe birds in nature and discover unusual species. Yesterday, we took them bird watching in the Everglades where we discovered hundreds of birds nesting for the evening along with a couple of alligators.
It’s wonderful to see seventy-somethings light up like children as they discover new treasures. Nature holds abundant wonders. We just need to make the effort to get out there and see what lights us up.
Affirmation: I enjoy the abundance nature provides.
Coaching questions: What in nature lights you up? What keeps you from exploring the outside world (besides the current cold and snow)?
Flowers always make people better; happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul. Luther Burbank, American botanist
Yesterday I took my out-of-town friends to Naples Botanical Gardens, a magical land of plants and flowers. Being there, we felt relaxed, happy, in tune with nature. Flowers truly are medicine for the soul.
If you’re living where it’s cold and snowy, take yourself to an imaginary garden. Look at photos of flowers, buy a blooming violet plant, or look through a seed catalogue. You’ll feel better about yourself and the world.
Affirmation: Flowers feed my soul.
Coaching question: What will you do to let flowers work their magic on you?
Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Muhammad Ali, Professional boxer, activist, philanthropist
The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and Palestine to the west. It is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. The Dead Sea receives beautiful fresh water from rivers and other sources but it has no outlet so no water passes out. With no outlet, the water in the sea goes dank, it goes bad. That’s why it is called The Dead Sea. It is dead because it receives but doesn’t give.
We are a part of nature just like the Dead Sea. As we receive, we must also give in order to not turn dank, shrivel up and die inside. In other words, generosity, caring for and about others is what gives us a joy-filled, healthy life. When we focus on ourselves…our own misfortunes, grief, slights, guilts, trials and tribulations…we lose the thread that attaches us to joy. We begin to unravel.
Affirmation: I find joy in giving.
Coaching questions: What keeps you from becoming a “dead sea?” What is one new way you can serve? What difference might it make in your life?
Walking in a leafy area for 90 minutes can keep you from dwelling on negative thoughts. Stanford resarchers
Are you a ruminator, “worry wort”, or anxiety-laden person? If you are, you might want to try shinrin-yoku, the Japanese stress-reduction practice of forest bathing. That’s right…bathing…soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of the woods or other tree-dense environment.
Yesterday I finally had the chance to walk to my favorite nature center. The most exhilarating part for me was the spring flowers along the way…iris, peonies, flowering trees. But the tall ancient oaks in my little northern town of Itasca were the real, “Ahhhh” of the walk. It was a short stroll taken late in the day but upon returning home where the jets fly low on their way to O’Hare Airport, I felt calmer and more peaceful. Perhaps not a “forest bath” but at least a refreshing “wash up”.
Affirmation: Nature soothes me.
Coaching questions: Research says that the typical American only spends 5% of his or her time outside. Is this your experience? What would a walk in the woods…a forest bath…do for you? Are you willing to check it out?