Monday, August 1, 2016

The Power of Going Outside

Normally, this blog focuses on sustainable use of resources like time, money, food, and fuel; all important things. But for the next couple of posts, I'm going to focus on something else that's easy to use up and hard to get back: your sanity. Because I've become at least half convinced that our modern lifestyle is killing us.

Think about what we do every day. Now, I'm lucky, in that part of the year I have the freedom that comes with self-employment and good weather to take a bike ride to the grocery or to see a client, but the majority of us are stuck for several hours in a day sitting in a chair behind a desk staring at a screen. Everything is square and backlit and makes strange beeping noises, particularly when you get email that explains why this deadline has been moved up or that client needs something right away or another person needs something fixed. These things may be our financial lifeblood, and they may even provide a degree of career satisfaction, but, no matter how benign, they take a toll on our health.

Take this new study out of Australia that goes a long way toward quantifying our need for nature in our lives. According to the research, if everyone visited a park for just 30 minutes once a week, there would be "seven percent fewer cases of depression and nine percent fewer cases of high blood pressure."  That's pretty specific, but it does point out that we can get a lot of benefit from even a little exposure to nature. It also maybe suggests that if corporations were really serious about employee health, they'd make sure they had some green space and encourage everyone to use it.

Of course, it's difficult sometimes. In the winter, I often think of Papa FC&G, who used to work in a windowless office. In the winter, he'd go to work in the dark and come home in the dark with only glimpses of the sun. Needless to say, my sun-loving father always had trouble with this arrangement.

The fact is, our bodies -- and that includes our minds -- need the outdoors. We evolved to want the warmth of the sun and the development of vitamin D in our skin. We spent millennia evolving a comfort with irregular, organic shapes and leafy green canopies above our heads. We have a visceral memory of the comfort of salt water, the salinity of which is echoed in every cell in the human body. We love nature because we evolved to be a part of it.

Now, I'm not arguing against progress. Believe me, I like central heat and ready supplies of food and electronic gadgets as much as the next person. But we all have to take time to touch base again with nature. Our minds will thank us for it.
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