Let me start by acknowledging that I’m really lucky that I can actually type this up. I have a nice house with a big backyard. Not everyone is able to do this. However, if you can, if it’s nice enough, you have the means to do so, and you have the space to do so – please go outside.
When I was younger, I went outside more often. That slowed as I got older, and I couldn’t even really tell you why. I was never a backyard kind of guy. Then we spent ten years in a home with a relatively small backyard (albeit a nice porch) and I didn’t see much of a point of going out. That changed as I did more research. One book in particular sticks with me – I’ve written about it before – The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Ilardi. The book argues that depression came from the way we have crafted civilization and that more time outdoors is necessary to address depression. I had other issues with the book, but on this point, I think is absolutely right.
The basic crux is that going outside helps make you feel more relaxed, more at peace, and more connected to others – even if there is no one around. And it’s backed up by some research:
- One analysis of ten studies found that self-esteem and mood could be improved for people who spent more time outside.
- People who walked in nature showed lower activity in brain centers associated with rumination, as opposed to those who walked in an urban center.
- Being close to nature or “greenspace” can reduce stress, symptoms of anxiety, and provide children with ADD or ADHD additional cognitive benefits.
- Nature is also associated with lower stress levels and higher levels of relaxation.
Alright, fine, going outside is good for your mental health. That probably isn’t really much of a surprise to you. It also helps explain why I’ve spent so much dam money on my backyard of late. But, let’s be clear, there are implications here that go a bit beyond the need to get some fresh air. Let’s go back to my disclaimer at the front of this article: What about people who don’t have a backyard? People who live in a heavily urbanized area and don’t have nearby public parks or nice amenities? People who are physically disabled and thus unable to easily access the benefits of nature?
Well…I mean, let’s be honest, they’re not going to get the benefit that the rest of us will. And that’s deeply unfair.
Of course, the benefits of nature, parks, greenways, and waterways are about more than improving your mood. Studies also show that access to nature can improve your physical health and provide a sense of connection with others. It can also improve your memory, your concentration, and help you lose weight. It’s pretty clear that being able to get outside in a high-quality space is about more than just improving your mood. It can do a lot more, and maybe, if Dr. Ilardi’s theory is to be believed, help people reconnect with something deeply biological within them.
So, if you can, go outside. Also – if you can – let’s all do a better job of advocating for high-quality public spaces that can be accessible to all of us, regardless of our income levels, where we live, or our levels of physical functioning.