At the time of writing, I am just getting ready to be allowed out the house after our two-week quarantine sentence. PTL.
Last night I was thinking about how much I would like to just run around the block, or go to the corner shop, or indeed go to our wonderful local park (we live near Sutton Park which is such an under-appreciated part of Birmingham – I am grateful for it every day – as is our dog – did you know it’s bigger than Gibraltar?).
I think I’ve got a touch of what is known as fernweh (check out the link, but fernweh is apparently the feeling of longing for the great outdoors).
Do you have it too?
I live in the city, but I grew up in a village. As is the case with most things, I didn’t realise until I moved to the city quite what a blessing it was until it was gone. What a gift it is to have a road with no streetlights so it’s properly dark for star gazing, for the sound of cows mooing to be the only thing keeping you awake at night, and to have no outlook in any directions but hills. Beautiful.
Now, I have no desire to go back – I love living in the city.
But there is something about nature, the wild. It is good for our souls.
Here’s a few things I have learned about why we need the great outdoors, the research brought on by my spell in quarantine (and my two weeks of camping that preceded it).
It inspires our creativity. Marc Berman, PhD, wanted to test if there really is a strong correlation between creativity and nature (as professed by DaVinci, Darwin et al). He enlisted undergraduate students and divided them into two groups. Both groups went through the same initial series of rigorous tasks. After finishing, one of the groups took a break in a secluded park, and the other in a busy urban setting. On a subsequent set of challenging cognitive tasks, the students who took the break in the natural setting outperformed those who took their break in an urban setting. Here’s what is even more amazing – apparently, he discovered in further testing, that even if you LOOK at pictures of nature it can help. So if you live in a city, and can’t find any green spaces, even looking at some images of nature can boost your creative juices.
It reduces our stress levels. A Chinese study of students found that those that spent their summer break away from the city in more natural environments returned to school with lower cortisol levels than those that stayed in urban ones.
It calms our minds. Stress and anxiety are part and parcel of modern life. This year has been no exception with many facing added financial and health worries due to the Covid19 pandemic. Most doctors would recommend exercise as part of the response to dealing with stress and anxiety: getting outdoors to do that is even better. There are several physical responses our bodies have to being in nature. Sitting outside can reduce blood pressure, lower heart rate, and decrease cortisol levels. When we are outside our body slows down, helping us feel peaceful and calm.
It improves your short-term memory. I don’t know about you but I am forgetting the little things more and more. Walking up the stairs in order to say to myself, ‘I have no idea why I am in here’. But studies show that getting outdoors helps us remember stuff. At the University of Michigan, two groups of students were given a memory test and then assigned to take a walk through a garden or down a city street. After their walks, the participants performed the memory test again. Those who walked through the garden improved their scores by 20 percent. I’ll take 20% thank you.
And of course there’s all the obvious reasons for being outside, especially if exercising, it’s good for our health, and therefore our sleep, and also improves longevity.
So, what are you waiting for?
Go put yourself in the way of beauty. Any way that you are able. Go sit in your garden if you have one. Go for a walk in a park if you are fortunate enough to live near one, or go walk along the beachfront if you are one of the chosen ones. If you can’t get outside today, even looking at nature can have this positive impact. Watch a David Attenborough documentary or even something like Race Across the World.
There are so many reasons to be down on this world, but it is a beautiful, beautiful place if we would just take the time to stop and smell the metaphorical and literal roses.