Play isn’t just for kids and neither is time in nature. Remember as a kid when your days were spent outside, as many hours as you could manage? There you explored the world, often by foot, or on a bike. Much of what we did was good for us, but of course we didn’t know that, we were just playing.
As adults we often dismiss play as a childish past time. Yet, consider the many ways it fed our curiosity, challenged our bodies and connected us to others. Play, outdoors and whatever came our way, used up our energy and created more. Sometimes, when I have spent a full day outside, I hear my mom’s voice. “You’re going to sleep well after all that fresh air.” And she is right, I do. Outside, engaging in activities without any agenda other than enjoyment and moving my body does help me sleep. I release the small worries that are plaguing me, reboot mentally, and enjoy being in the moment.
Nature, an accessible mental health strategy
These days, as more people of all ages are dealing with uncertainty about the world and their personal lives the need for accessible mental health strategies are more important than ever. Spending time in nature is gaining momentum as scientists, health care practitioners, educators and the public discover its physical and mental benefits.
Play time in nature (or green space) increases the capacities and development of creativity, problem solving and intellect in children. (Kellert, 2005). I rather wonder if it doesn’t still support those cognitive functions within adults.
We were more physically fit than many children now, who spend much of their time in organized activities, indoors. Their decline is also our decline. Overweight or obese children rarely have slim parents, it truly is a family affair. Our screen time and multiple devices keep us from fully developing our other talents and abilities. Plugging into nature and sharing the experience with others, creates new stories and memories that last over the years.
I chose time in nature over a treadmill.
Nature has been an ongoing backdrop to my life and important in my recovery from a back injury. Rather than setting goals of 20 minutes on a treadmill, I walked a hilly terrain within a nearby provincial park. Each time I ventured out, I was treated to the changing scenery of the forest. Immersing myself in the sights and sounds, it was less dogged physical therapy and more interest in seeing what was next. The more I walked, the better my body and mind became. I noticed the pain less, the gait lengthened and before long I was tackling steeper and longer hills. Enjoyment is the best motivator.
It’s fair to say that nature is an important part of my mental health arsenal when I am working through tough emotional times. The month of October is a challenging one for me, as it is filled with anniversaries of loss. I appreciate the fact that in the place I call home, with its change of seasons, comes magnificent colors. Their vibrancy surrounds me with undeniable beauty.
Time in nature gives us a sense of connection, of being a part of something bigger than ourselves. Depending on the setting, it can also inspire in us awe and according to researchers, that has a positive impact too.
My feelings of contentment and well-being are consistent with studies done by environmental psychologists. In fact, more and more health care centers are designing natural spaces for the use and view of their patients. Studies show that patients who have a view of the natural world, instead of walls, go home sooner than those who don’t.
A 100 km bucket list challenge – bring on the play and nature.
We don’t need to wait for a health issue – mental or physical, to change how we spend our time. As another weekend is upon us, consider forms of play you would like to take part in. Perhaps it’s time for a more energetic walk with your dog – less walk and more play. If you have kids, allow yourself to be a kid with them. Jump in the leaves, or start an impromptu game of keep away or a bike race. On your own? Call up some friends and choose an adventure. Maybe a trip to an orchard to pick some apples, or picking up the garbage along a waterway, or exploring a new park.
The term bucket list is popular these days, but seems to favor travel adventures. Maybe it’s time to bring that back to bite size portions. The kind that doesn’t require months of preparation or a big budget. Think of it as a 100 km activity challenge. No activities further than 100 km from where you live. (Of course, if you live in Europe, you could potentially travel several countries in that distance, please adjust accordingly!)
My bucket list consists of activities that either didn’t exist where I lived as a child or I didn’t do with my own kids. Kite flying, a haunted hay ride put on by a local historical society, canoeing the river system of my city and yes, I think a corn maze.
Regardless of your age, profession or relationship status you owe it to yourself to re-engage with the natural world. Nature, its sights, sounds and smells soothes us as so few things can. Please, consider taking some time to explore your options and then schedule it in. I think you will find it adds a depth to your life and sense of enjoyment to your everyday that may have gone missing.
After you have spent some time playing in nature, leave a comment about your outdoor activities, we’d love to hear all about it.