As the school year comes to an end, our thoughts turn to summer, vacation, and the great outdoors. We get excited to see the sun, shed the sweaters, and make plans for hiking, camping, boating, and exploring the Pacific Northwest. But, you know, being outdoors has benefits all year long. This summer, start a habit of being outside regularly, then stick with it throughout the year.
Studies have documented many benefits for children when they get outdoors. In Finland, where children spend 15 minutes outside after every 45 minutes of instruction, studies have shown that these frequent breaks can equal smarter kids. They return to the classroom more attentive and ready to resume their learning. Those 15 minutes outdoors refreshes their bodies and their brains.
Being outdoors in the natural sunlight helps align the body’s biological rhythms to natural cycles of light and dark — rhythms that help regulate sleep and manage stress levels and hormones. Sunlight stimulates the part of the brain that helps regulate our biological clock. And supplies us with vitamin D, which improves our brain’s ability to function efficiently.
Studies have linked time spent outdoors in nature to decreased ADHD in children and improved focus, concentration and productivity in adults. According to the National Institute of Health, being exposed to light at all times of the day and night modern contributes to late sleep schedules and may also disrupt sleep. Getting outside and reconnecting with natural rhythms of light and dark can help address this disconnect.
Simply put, spending time outdoors in nature and natural light improves wellness and just makes us feel better.
Another mind/body connection to nature and being outdoors is found in environmental health research. Grounding, also known as ‘earthing’, “refers to the discovery of benefits — including better sleep and reduced pain — from walking barefoot outside or sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems that transfer the Earth’s electrons from the ground into the body.” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3265077/#]
In the article “Earthing: Health Implications of Reconnecting the Human Body to the Earth’s Surface Electrons”, the authors note, “emerging scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. Modern lifestyle separates humans from such contact. The research suggests that this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.”
Whether a grassy lawn or the sandy beach, being barefoot and connecting your body to the earth has benefits.
So as you are planning your summer, make some time for being outdoors – preferably barefoot! Plan a picnic, shed the shoes, and enjoy a romp in the park after lunch. Stretch yourself out in the grass and watch the clouds float by. Take off those shoes next time you are at the beach and soak up some healing electrons.
Here are a few of my favorite ‘get outside’ destinations in Benton County:
- Bald Hill bike & hike trail – walk or bike for as long as the little legs will go and choose your level of difficulty. Stick to a short paved stretch near the fairgrounds, or challenge yourselves to climb the unpaved, but well marked trails to the top of Bald Hill.
- Jackson Frazier wetland – a lovely boardwalk loop through protected wetlands. The boardwalk is flat and the walk just two-thirds of a mile long, with opportunities to hear and see all sorts of wildlife.
- Fitton Green natural area – a bit of a drive out Oak Creek Drive, Fitton Green is a lovely grassy knoll with stunning views of the valley along its gently sloping loop trail.
Do you have a favorite nearby destination for getting out and back in touch with mother nature? Share it in the comments!
Want to learn more about the research being done on the body’s connection to nature? See: