Life is stressful and demanding! And while we may have one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce that stress right at our fingertips, it’s sometimes hard to take advantage of it. However, the research proves cultivating and spending time in healthy environments is well worth it – positive, productive, and balanced for optimal wellbeing!
Start in your backyard...
Your environment encompasses many facets- your internal environment (think your headspace, gut microbiome, etc.) and external environment (includes your home, work spaces, and other places you visit regularly). Since April is about outdoor wellbeing, however, here are some more reasons why spending more time outdoors can improve your health- memory, productivity, creativity, concentration, and more.
A deep breath of fresh air or quick soak in the sun may remedy a temporary low. However, research shows that consistent and regular nature-related activities positively impact the gut microbiome, fecal serotonin levels (an indication of BOTH gastrointestinal health and mental health, in particular mood response), and psychosocial behavior. As we touch on in Nurture a Healthy Gut, a diverse gut microbiome is essential to overall wellness. While fresh air, sunshine, and other sensory engagement can immediately elevate our mood and energy levels, a balanced gut also supports our body’s ability to work more efficiently as a whole.
There are pieces of the outdoors that we don’t always realize play a key role in our health. Have you thought about how pollinators support our food supply? For example, bees “are responsible for nearly one in every three bites of food you eat.” Yet, they are dying at unprecedented rates! This loss is expedited by habitat destruction, climate change, chemical pesticides, invasive plant species, and diseases and parasites.
While we may not be able to “fix” all of these with our actions, there are plenty of steps we can take to foster a healthier outdoor environment for us and our nature friends… starting in our backyard! Here are two simple ways you can help cultivate long-lasting beauty and health in our outdoor AND internal environments:
Plant a garden. With the right plants and flowers, you could help shelter and feed bees, frogs, toads, and more!
Eat fewer meat and dairy products. Many studies are showing that at the rate we’re releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from meat and dairy production, we’ll be in big trouble in the near future!
Take care of it and it'll take care of you!
If we want to be able to enjoy our planet for all its benefits – mental, emotional, physical, and recreational – we must take care of it. This is so critical that a designated Earth Day (April 22nd) was created as an educational opportunity; it may be a one-day “event,” but the annual campaign highlights issues that affect us everyday. Climate change, air pollution, water pollution, erosion, recycling, composting, renewable fuels and power, carbon footprints, car efficiency, rainforests, and ecosystems all are included. Our own health and well-being has a direct correlation with the health of our surroundings and of our planet!
If we take care of the earth, this is how it takes care of us:
reduces mental fatigue! With multimedia and technology everywhere, our brains rarely have a chance to “switch off” and get grounded. Research shows we are more likely to “simplify” our thought processes when outdoors, providing an opportunity to think through things more quickly, improving our problem-solving, decision-making, and concentration skills. This can significantly improve our academic or work performance and allow us to be more creative!
alleviates stress! Just 20-30 minutes spent outdoors every day can significantly reduce cortisol levels (improving your body’s ability to balance hormones and maintain a healthy weight).
Try reading or journaling on your porch or at the park. Take a moment to be present. Reflect on how the way fresh air transforms your mood.
Pack a picnic for the park or simply eat on your back deck. Reconnect with nature AND fuel your body!
elevates your mood! Exposure to natural light is conducive to higher self-esteem and better moods, particularly when combined with “green exercise” (exercising outdoors). Consistent exercise, in and of itself, can also help with short-term memory, better academic or work performance, and more.
Embrace gentle activities with friends, family, or pets. Walking, jogging, or even outdoor games and tasks, such as gardening or cleaning up the yard, can also be considered as exercise if the activity raises your heart rate and requires various muscle groups to work together!
Head to the water! Water sports, such as kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, or water skiing, are incredible challenges for your core and total body endurance.
Other ideas: cycling or biking off road, hiking, outdoor meditation or journaling, geocaching, taking your workout outside, or playing any outdoor sports!
Show your love for the planet EVERY day.
Small changes make a big difference, and below are a few examples of how you can observe Earth Day, every day:
Support and use recycling programs in your community.
Volunteer to clean up local parks and streets on clean-up days.
Support and frequent green businesses.
Use reusable products versus disposable.
Repurpose items that have outworn their use.
Shop secondhand and thrift stores for gently used items.
Use energy-efficient appliances or line dry your clothes.
Walk or ride your bike to work, if possible.
Carpool or make one trip instead of multiple trips when shopping.
Encourage your favorite products to reduce packaging.
The Earth Day official campaign website has 52 additional tips with informational links for you to check out, as well!