Go play outside - but why?

                                                                                                          With one of my favourite walking buddies, Chubbs

                                                                                                        With one of my favourite walking buddies, Chubbs

Every fall and winter, I find myself confined indoors more - this is accompanied by shorter days, dips in temperatures, and often lots of rain and snow (especially this year). I find it so much harder to get outside, which leads to an overall feeling of discontent.

I'm lucky to live in North Vancouver, which is home to so many hiking and walking trails, but this doesn't mean it's easy to get outside and truly be in nature on a regular basis. So, to give myself a kick in the butt, as well as provide some info for anyone reading this, I've compiled a short list of the benefits of immersing one's self in nature:

1. Decreased stress levels

Many studies have shown the positive effect that being in nature has on stress levels - that is, it helps to decrease them. I know that when I'm outdoors, especially amongst the trees or near the ocean, I experience a feeling of calm that I never have indoors.

2. Vitamin D

It is well known that it's particularly difficult for most Canadians to get enough Vitamin D in the winter months, even for those of us living in milder climates (#Raincouver). Taking advantage of sunnier days by spending them outdoors helps us to ensure we are getting the Vitamin D we need during the wetter, colder seasons (although in some cases, Vitamin D supplementation may also be necessary).

3. Improved cognitive and emotional functioning

Personally, I grew up playing outside, and didn't have my first cell phone until I was 13 (it was a gorgeous Motorola flip phone with the capacity to send 25 texts per month and the ability to send me into a panic anytime I accidentally clicked the Internet browser button).

Motorola phone.jpg

Recently, I would often find myself staring at multiple screens (i.e. phone, TV, laptop), and I noticed my attention span was pretty shot. That's why this year, one of my new year's resolutions was to get outside more. 

I'm going to get a little scientific here, just bear with me - according to Kaplan's "attention restoration theory" (aka ART), there are two types of attention:

1. Involuntary attention - attention is captured by "inherently intriguing or important stimuli"
2. Direct/voluntary attention - plays a big role in cognitive and emotional functioning; attention is directed/"captured" by cognitive control processes in your brain

So basically, ART finds nature to capture our involuntary attention (i.e. a sunset, sunrise, waterfalls) - this allows our direct attention mechanisms to have a chance to replenish, which in turn improves our cognitive and emotional functioning!

4. Improved memory

Many studies have shown the positive effects that being in nature has on memory. One study in particular (Berman, Jonides and Kaplan, 2008) had two groups of participants - both groups were given the same data to memorize, and then were sent off on walks that were equal in distance, but different in location. Group 1 walked on a trail that was dense with trees and secluded from traffic and other people, whereas Group 2 walked throughout the downtown core of a city, that was full of traffic and people. The results showed that Group 1, who walked in nature, was able to retain information significantly better than Group 2, who did not walk in nature.

nature.jpg

So, there you have it. Most of this info may be common knowledge/common sense to some people, but it's always nice to have a reminder, especially in these cold winter months :) I'll definitely be making more of an effort to be outside in nature on a daily basis from here on out!

Thanks for reading! xo

Zakiya

References:

Berman, M.G., Jonides, J., Kaplan, S. (2008). The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Psychological science, 19(12).

Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: toward an integrative framework. Journal of environmental psychology, 15(3).