5 good reasons to play outside

Playing outside can joyfully liberate your mind at times. It’s a wonderful way to refresh yourself after doing intellectual work of any kind.

I took a fantastic trip to Alaska in June 2017. It was amazing. It’s hard to even begin to convey the majestic enormity of the landscape. No photographs can do it justice, no matter how excellent the photographer.

For me, the entire trip was a break from my computer and writing. After kayaking among ice floes, hiking across waterfalls, and several days of birding in the tundra with expert David Sibley, I came back home refreshed, relaxed, and ready to start again.

Here are 5 good reasons to play outside:

  1. Boost creativity. Nature has a way of nurturing that is different from all others. The stimulation your brain gets from using all your senses can literally cultivate creativity. Unstructured time can restore your imagination, leading to new ideas or solutions to problems. People having four or more whole days outside boosted creativity by 50% (Atchley, Strayer, and Atchley, 2012).

In 2010, psychology professor Richard Ryan from the University of Rochester, New York published an article the Journal of Environmental Psychology showing 20 minutes outdoors provides the same “pick-me-up” effect as a cup of coffee because human beingshave a natural connection with living things.” He found being outside can increase your sense of energy for any task.

Even just taking a few minutes looking at pictures of natural scenes can help reduce mental fatigue. I’ve written about this before at 5 reasons why window gazing helps thinking and writing.

  1. Increase physical and mental well-being. Being outdoors and relying on your body to get you through difficult territory can make you a lot more self-confident. Physical activity in the great outdoors can calm you down, reduce negative feelings associated with stress, rest your eyes, improve your concentration, build up your immune system, and expose you to sunlight, a natural curative for depression. There are even some researchers who believe breathing the air outside is healthier for you than breathing the recirculated air inside your home.
  2. Fun for the whole family. Playing outside is an activity the entire family can enjoy. It may help burn up the excessive energy of small children that can wear parents out. It can give you and the kids something in common to discuss. It doesn’t matter whether you hike in the woods, bike alongside your dog on a garden trial, ride horses, or play with your children in the park, as long as you are outside doing something you enjoy.

Not to mention, letting kids play outside near you, even if you are not specifically interacting with them, might give you a little space to talk to your spouse or partner away from the demands of household maintenance.

  1. Laboratory for learning. Explorative outdoor play can be a great laboratory for learning. Ever try to answer such questions as “Why is the sky blue?” or “Where does rain come from?” or “Why do fireflies light up?” These are the sorts of basic scientific inquiries that can ultimately lead to new discoveries as children are encouraged to pursue their interests in a sandbox, garden, or playground. And all of you will improve your powers of observation, awareness and even reasoning. It can also create a sense of awe for the amazing world that surrounds us.
  2. Help to age more gracefully. If we are lucky, we are all getting older. Maintaining strength and balance by working out alone inside a gym can be tedious. Being outside can make exercise more fun and encourages you to go out again. Finding ways to do fun things with your peer group from gardening to tai chi keeps social skills sharp and quite possibly inhibits dementia.

My husband likes to take his camera out to the marsh at dawn or dusk to create what he calls “blurs,” a sort of hazy impressionist picture of vast expanses of landscape. Many of my local friends love kayaking, paddle boarding or surfing in the Lowcountry. Some head out on night walks to see the stars. Some fly kites, climb rocks, or sit on porch swings in the evenings with their family. It will come as no surprise that I personally like outdoor time hiking to look at wildflowers and birds.

Without exception, the people I know talk about how much better they feel after being outdoors away from the demands of the electronic age.

Just be certain you are not performing chores like mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, patching the roof, or cleaning the furniture on your apartment balcony. All those things may take place outside, but for most people, they would not qualify as “play.”

The time you spend playing outdoors can literally help revitalize your life.


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