How Being Outdoors Benefits Both The Body And The Mind

The weather outside can be frightful at times, but your mental health may thank you for stepping outside on a regular basis. Stephen from Inter-Active Therapy tells you how being active in nature can be advantageous.

The beauty of being outside

I love being outdoors and staying active because seasonal changes are a true feast for the senses. Hearing the leaves fall to the ground or crunch underfoot, and feeling the wind on my face while walking through my favourite parks in Amsterdam are the highlights of my day. Regardless of the weather, I have come to learn that the days where I go outside simply feel more satisfying than the days that I don't.

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing amount of knowledge shared about the ways in which spending time in nature, and engaging in moderate exercise can help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Increase problem solving skills
  • Improve mood

And these are only some of the possible advantages.

How being outside affects your mind

Walking outside can help you to clear your mind. Paying attention to your surroundings can be a distraction from challenging thoughts. On the other hand, it could also inspire you to gain new perspectives and ideas.

Conversations can flow more naturally while walking outdoors. Even difficult discussions can be held on the go, as the act of walking next to the person you are speaking with, rather than sitting across from them, can feel less confrontational for both parties.

Prominent thinkers, including Einstein and Kant, would take regular walks in order to relax while contemplating their theories. Steve Jobs would solve problems by breaking away from his office, heading outside and walking in nature. But you don’t have to be a famous philosopher or tech guru to profit from walking - it is an equal opportunity activity.

"Weather" we like it or not!

We can learn a lot from the process of nature. It serves as a metaphor for our lives in general. While there are predictable trends we can hope for, there are no guarantees that the outcome will match what we expect.

Spring and autumn can be especially unpredictable with dry periods followed by rain that never seems to want to end. Nature doesn’t seem to mind though. Nature is resilient and bounces back. Nature doesn’t take setbacks personally, but adapts to make the most of them in order to change and thrive. Nature takes its time and goes through phases of development and growth followed by rest and regeneration.

Nature and life are unpredictable

Whether we like it or not, our lives mirror this process of nature. It can be unpredictable and we can experience periods in which we feel unsettled. We can also be resilient and thrive in the face of setbacks. Some of us know this instinctively, whereas others could benefit from support in developing these skills.

There is a lot we cannot control in our lives and the tilt of our planet is one of these things. Research which supports the impact that seasonal changes and the length of daylight can have on our energy levels, mood and functioning is abundant. Seasonal affective disorder is believed to impact up to three percent of the general population every year.

Different seasons

The impact of weather can be more subjective though. Some people love the warmth of the summer, going outside to meet friends in a park, while others can’t wait to curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and a good book in the winter. But one thing is clear, going outside on a daily basis is always a good idea.

So what can we do about the cold? What about the wet? What about scalding sun? Stephen’s approach is to refer to Scandinavian wisdom which tells us, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Taking one small step at a time

Beneficial outdoor activity does not have to be difficult, and with a little creativity, it can be included into any lifestyle. That could mean:

  • Enjoying lunch outside with, or without, your partner or friend.
  • Walking or cycling to the shops or your work rather than taking the car.
  • Getting off public transport a stop earlier than usual to walk that last few hundred metres to the office.

Maybe you have the flexibility to take a meeting outside on your mobile phone, or even take your whole team out for a walk to look at nature whilst brainstorming new ideas? Consciously changing your behaviour to spend more time in nature can seem like a daunting task if it isn’t something you are already used to. But rest assured, it is made a lot easier if you just take it one small step at a time.

Do you need help with mental health or personal issues, including stress reduction? Inter-Active Therapy teaches cognitive and behavioural strategies to their clients while walking (online options also available). 

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