Even with all the concrete in New York, you can smell it in the air—spring has arrived! Is it just us, or does the arrival of this spring feel so much more exciting than all the ones before it? There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming months, and getting outside is just one of them.
Naturally, the arrival of spring also closely coincides with the start of Earth Month on April 1st! Yup, you heard us right, Earth Month. We don’t want to keep our excitement contained to one day. And why should we! The joys of nature are something we believe can (and should) be celebrated as much as possible.
All this means is that April is the absolute perfect time to bust out of your quarantine hibernation and get outside! And maybe, just maybe, there will be a little something from Stojo to bring while you climb rocks with your fingernails (or maybe just take a jog around the park). Keep your eyes peeled.
Deepening your appreciation of nature
Everyone can benefit from deepening your relationship with the outdoors. As humans, our lives can be super hectic, and it’s easy to get caught up in work, in social media, or in how amazing Zendaya is in Euphoria. All fair! But when you have a deep, fulfilling relationship with nature, you can serve to benefit a lot, mentally and physically.
There’s a strong growing body of scientific evidence that points towards the benefits of green (parks and forests) and blue (lakes, rivers, and oceans) spaces to humans. According to the American Psychiatric Association (the APA), spending time in nature can have a number of psychological benefits—improving attention spans, decreasing stress and cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, and even reducing the risk for psychiatric disorders.
Research even suggests that access to nature improves our cognitive abilities—essentially, how well our brains work. In a 2019 review, researchers found that green spaces around children (homes and schools) promoted their cognitive development. This same study makes an important point towards environmental equity as well—adults in public housing units with access to green spaces showed better attentional functioning than those without. This research also suggests that urban nature has the same benefits of “real” nature outside of cities.
Another 2019 study showed strong evidence that spending at least 120 minutes (aka 2 hours) in nature a week provided significant health benefits, with participants from every demographic reporting increased levels of happiness and mental well-being. This was a massive study of around 200,000 people, with a very diverse participant pool. Visiting local parks or other green spaces also encourages more walking and physical exercise, which itself is one of the most effective ways of keeping your body healthy.
Other researchers are focusing their efforts on a more total sensory experience. There’s a lot more to nature than just looking! When we really submerge ourselves in the outdoors, all of our senses are activated, and more than just our minds benefit. This same group, which includes Professor Peter Kahn out of the University of Washington, propose that nature should be part of civic public health agendas.
We can also deepen our relationship with the earth by nourishing it. As you just read about, we can get all these amazing benefits from nature, so it’s great to give a little back, too. When spending time in nature, follow the “leave no trace” mentality: this means not leaving behind any trash, taking care of human waste properly (kind of gross, but extra important!), and not disturbing the natural environment through off-the-path exploration.
While it’s very tempting to want to get far away from other people when being in nature, paths and trails play an important role in safety—on both sides. Ecosystems, like alpine vegetation on mountains, can be very delicate. The trail may also be keeping you from going somewhere dangerous, whether it’s a feature in the landscape or wild animal territories.
You can go even further than “leave no trace” by leaving things better than you found it. When going on a hike, bring a small trash bag to pick up anything left along the way. There are whole communities dedicated to outdoor cleanup, from crews on Mt. Everest to Coastal Cleanup in New York.
More ways to get outside
Of course, the woods and mountains are far from the only ways to get outside. Those places may not even be accessible to you. Not to fear, there are plenty of ways to get outdoors!
Utilize your lunch break: Lunch breaks are a sacred thing—no meetings to attend or deadlines to meet. This is your chance to pop outside, even if it’s just for a few puffs of fresh air. Just a fifteen minute walk around the block can make a big difference and add up over the course of a week.
Take your meetings on the lawn: Or your porch, front step, park bench, or fire escape. During the busy work week, taking even a 15 minute call outside can help refresh your mind and get your thoughts in order. If you’re working from home, take advantage of that flexibility! (And if you’re already working from the beach, know that everyone else is extremely jealous.)
Walk to a local business: This is not only a tip for getting outdoors, but also great for sneaking in more steps. If you have local errands to run, break them up into different days, so that way you’re getting outside multiple times a week. You can also invent errands by researching cool local businesses or landmarks within walking distance and visit those!
Join up with others: The easiest way to social distance is outside! You can join up with a local land or wildlife conservation group and volunteer with them, some of which offer shuttles in non-COVID times if you don’t have your own transportation. Even in urban settings, there are many volunteer opportunities with local urban farming groups, many of which are started by local community members for local community members.