Being outdoors

For a few years now, I’ve had the idea of making a couple of pair of snowshoes. I’m thinking that it may be time to work on that project. And it isn’t just because there are another 3 or 4 inches of snow that need to be cleared from my driveway before I head out this morning. These spring snows will quickly melt. They don’t hang around long, though the forecast calls for even more snow later this week. The moisture is really needed and I shouldn’t complain, but I am a bit tired of winter weather.

The main reason I’m thinking of making some snowshoes is that I haven’t been doing as much outdoor recreation lately as once was the case. There was a time when I purchased a season ski pass and headed to the slopes whenever I had a bit of free time. I also did quite a bit of cross country skiing back in the day. But lately, I’m not doing much skiing. I’ve focused my attention on paddling and for fanatics of small boats, winter is the time when you work on repairing your boats and building new ones. I have a project going in my garage at all times, though I haven’t worked on it as much this winter. When it gets really cold, my boatbuilding activity stops in want of warmer weather.`

If you check out Apple’s App Store for phones, you can find an application called “Wildfulness: Unwind in Nature.” For $2.99 you can install on your phone an app that will pair “beautiful on-screen animations reflecting natural scenes, such as winter mountains and spring mornings, with forest sounds.” The app promises to help its users “relax from yo9ur busy day.” Actually this is just one of many applications that use natural sounds and images claiming the power to relieve stress.

Frankly, I’d prefer to just go outside - even in he cold of winter.

There is plenty of research that illustrates the benefits of simply going outdoors. A walk in the woods or a paddle on the lake yields measurable health benefits. Spending time outdoors lowers blood pressure and boosts creativity. Journalist Florence Williams book, “The Nature Fix” chronicles the scientific evidence that demonstrates the benefits of simply spending time outdoors. She writes, “At the same time, we’re chronically burdened by ailments made worse by spending time indoors, from myopia and vitamin D deficiency, to obesity, depression, loneliness and anxiety.” Staying inside can literally make you sick. According to one study as many as 90 percent of the youth in South Korea experience myopia due to vitamin D deficiency from last of sun exposure. There is a move in that country to install full spectrum lights in classrooms to stem the tide of short-sightedness.

We know from research into seasonal affective disorder that people can develop serious illness from not receiving sufficient light. Although some people appear to be more vulnerable than others, the symptoms of SAD are serious and can include clinical depression. SAD is very common, with as many as 3 million cases presented to medical professionals in the United States each year.

Yuma University researcher Yoshifumi Miyzazaki hypothesizes that human bodies relax in nature because human bodies evolved in nature. Homo sapiens evolved living outdoors. Our natural environment includes regular contact with the natural world.

In one study just 15 minutes outdoors per day increased short term memory. When we take time to go outdoors and appreciate the natural world our prefrontal cortex quiets down and our brains produce more alpha waves, associated with calmness, flow and meditation. We are literally designed to make praying outdoors easier than doing so indoors. This says something important about the design of church buildings. I know that the chapel at Placerville Church Camp, with its glass front that gives a superb view of the black hills, is an easy place to worship and pray.

A study conducted in Finland showed that people who spend 45 minutes per day outside experience a boost in cognitive performance. The same study claims that spending five hours per month outdoors in a natural setting will reduce the indigence of depression significantly.

I know it is true for me. I find myself longing to be outside, even when the weather is cold. And I need a bit more than just clearing the snow from the driveway and walking from my car to the office. I need to take time to walk and breathe and experience the coldness of the air.

I was feeling the need to go outdoors strongly during the last week. My schedule was busy and the weather has been cold. The ice was out of the lake and I was paddling regularly by mid March last year. I was able to paddle into December. This year looks to be at least a full month shorter when it comes to the paddling season. I shouldn’t be using that as an excuse. I live in the woods. I don’t have to make much effort to simply go for a walk in the trees, breath the outdoor air, listen to the sounds of the birds and restore my spirit.

If I’m a bit tired of the weather, I’m not alone. Last evening I watched the deer lying in the grass wile the snow dusted their backs yet again. They may not be conscious of it, but they are ready for some fresh green shoots to burst forth. It gives them more energy with less work than eating the dry grass upon which they are subsisting at the moment. With new fawns coming, they could use the extra nutrition. The spring birds are a bit confused by all the snow as well. We hear them singing riotously whenever the snow stops and the sun comes out as it did yesterday afternoon before the snow started to fall again around dinnertime.

I have no intention of buying the nature sounds application for my phone. Every time I feel the urge, I’m going to find a way to go outside, even if it is just for a few minutes.

I guess I can start this morning by shoveling snow.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!