You Should Get Outside

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Hey, you should get outside! As my job as a professional counselor, I sit in an office all day, in a building where I don’t have control over the air conditioner. So I’m at the mercy of “the system” to decide how comfortable or uncomfortable I am. Last year, I moved to our new offices where I have a great corner office, with window on the east and south sides of the office, and I have some trees right outside my window and a park-like lot across the street, so I get to see nature, but I’m not in nature. So that’s good…everyone wants a nice window in their office. Two of the offices in our suite don’t have windows and we have trouble renting those out because of that! But even with my nice windows, I’m still in a man-made, non-natural environment all day. I know a lot of you have it even worse. A bunch of my clients talk about working in cubicles under fluorescent lights all day.

Years ago, when I was in college, I worked in a hospital lab that was like that: no windows, departments segregated by cubicle walls, florescent lights…it’s no wonder everyone seemed so grumpy. Hearing what some of my clients were saying and thinking about how trapped inside I felt many days, I started thinking about getting outside. I started remembering the trips we took when I was a kid with our pop-up camper towed behind the car, to various state parks around the state. When your parents don’t have much money, but 4 kids, you have to find affordable vacation options. But these trips were some of my fondest childhood memories. Partly because of the family bonding it provided, but also because we got out in nature: Enchanted Rock, Davis Mountain State Park, Big Bend National Park…places where we were awe-struck by nature. So I stated wondering “what makes being in nature so amazing for us?”

Then I found the Audible Original “The Three-Day Effect” by Florence Williams, and then that led me to her book called The Nature Fix. I’m kind of a little obsessed with this book. In it, she tells a bunch of things…well, actually, she cites a bunch of research, so it’s not just her opinion…but it’s things that I kind of knew intuitively but didn’t know were science-based facts. And it’s all about how being outside is good for us. I remember when I was a kid, my mom would fuss at us if we’d been watching too much TV and say, “you kids get outside!” Thanks, Mom, maybe you just wanted some quiet time without 4 kids hanging around inside the house, but whether you knew it or not, you were trying to help me feel better!

So in this book, Florence breaks down all the various beneficial factors of being outside. So there are visual things that happen when you’re outside that create more alpha waves in your brain. Those are the relaxing brain waves that help you feel calm. There are things you smell that also help you feel calm, but also boost your immune system. You hear things while you’re outside that improve your mood. Not to mention the Vitamin D you get from the sun, and the serotonin dump of being physically active. Tons of different benefits of being outside!

But Florence is a journalist, so she went all over the world talking to a whole bunch of scientists who are doing research about this stuff. She went to Japan and talked to researchers there about “forest bathing” (there’s a Japanese term for that, but I’ll have to check that out in the book again before I can say it properly). She talked to David Strayer at the University of Utah so takes brain scanning devices on river rafting trips for his research. She talks to folks in Germany, and Sweden…I tell you, she went all over the world. Did you know “kindergarten” is a German word based on a plan to teach kids by having them gardening? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindergarten)

Fascinating! We’ve known for centuries that it’s helpful to be outside, yet in our modern world, we stay inside most of the time. Years ago, my primary care doctor told me I should elevate my heartrate for 2 hours per week. So that’s a guideline I’ve often relayed to my clients (of course, after they check with their doctor to make sure they are physically okay to do that)—I used to tell them to go walk around the block, but it was all for the physical activity component. Now, I’ve started telling them, “you should get outside.” Some of the researchers Williams talks to have found that a minimum of 5 hours per month outside helps us maintain good physical and emotional wellness. So that’s another guideline I give my clients.

So this is the start of a project where I’ll be making videos from outside. I’ve been a runner or walker for years now, and even more so since my heart attack back in 2017. So I’ve been outside, but sometimes just on the streets of my neighborhood, which is okay, but since I’ve read this book, I’m more intent on getting to the running trail in Memorial Park here in Houston, where it feels much more “natural.” Or I go the Willow Waterhole in my neighborhood, which is a retention pond system for flood control, but it’s a big plot of nature with some trails around the ponds, so it feels more natural (even though you can also see a freeway from part of the trail). I also will start making my way on a few longer day trips to hike in wildlife preserves or state parks…and you can follow me doing this. This is also something I’ve been doing for a couple of years without knowing it with the retreats I organize. I get a small group of people together for a retreat (personal growth, professional growth, wellness-promoting kinds of events), but part of it includes being outdoors in wilderness. In fact, in October, I’m hosting a retreat for men 22-35 years old, that will include kayaking on Buffalo Bayou, a refuge of wilderness here in the center of Houston. And then in the spring, I’m organizing a retreat for the same age group of men to go rafting on the Rio Grande through Big Bend in West Texas. That’s going to be a week-long trip. I’m very excited for both of these, so watch my interweb sites for info…and I’ll post links on the comments below. I guess I should say that I’m organizing these events for men because that’s mostly who I work with in my private practice, so it just makes sense to follow that thread.

So watch for another video in about a week, and hopefully I’ll be posting weekly after that. I’ll be giving more specifics from The Nature Fix, and just showing you where I’m at. In the meantime, let me know where you go when you want to get outside, or where your favorite hiking trails are. Maybe I’ll come hike with you there!

Thanks for watching, follow me on the apps or Facebook…and now, go outside!

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