Many of you know my love for the Chicago neighborhood where I was raised. Stoops outside our front doors were practically windows into our souls. Sharing milestones and events of the day, and simply passing the time with neighbors strengthened our connections to life and each other.
My stoop was also gateway to the outdoors. It was a welcome break from being cooped up inside, especially during sweltering summers. What we may not have realized at the time was that our time outdoors was beneficial to our physical and mental well-being.
Research is catching up with what we’ve intuitively known for a long time. Studies conclude a direct correlation between spending time outdoors and good mental health. In fact, it’s no coincidence that a cornerstone of the Living Life on Purpose conferences that I periodically offer for teams and the public is spending time outdoors.
There are three theories that explain the benefits of spending time in nature:
- Connecting to our ancestral behaviors – The first is that our ancestors’ well-being and survival depended on connecting with nature, food, and water.
- Balancing types of attention – The second theory is that directed attention on executive functions is a limited resource. Involuntary attention, which being outdoors allows for, has a restorative effect on us. We can get away and effortlessly engage in observing our visually rich environment.
- Reducing stress – Exposure to certain natural elements is beneficial for well-being. For instance, researchers in Japan have tested how specific elements of nature, such as wood or the sound of running water, influence the human stress response.
Last year, McKinsey & Company consultants published an article about the positive effect nature has on creativity and performance. They recommend what’s called forest bathing, leaving your phone behind, and switching back and forth between tasks that require the two types of attention mentioned above.
They also suggest rethinking your workouts. Outdoor exercise results in greater reductions of stress, anxiety, depression, and anger. For those of you not familiar with forest bathing, it’s a term that originated in Japan after studies showed that two hours of mindful exploration in the outdoors could reduce blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, and improve concentration and memory.
With fall approaching and the leaves changing, don’t miss this opportunity to engage in the outdoors near your home. And if you can’t do that, I hope you at least step out on your stoop. This small change in your daily routine will amount to big benefits in your mind, body, and spirit.
I’ll leave you with this fitting quote by Henry David Thoreau: “It is the marriage of the soul with nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.”