7 Super Easy Ways To Integrate Nature Into A Busy Life
If you’re anything like me, your typical day involves getting up early, making the kids their school lunch, driving them to school and then returning back home to work at my computer for the next 6 hours until it’s time to pick the kids up again and then drive them around to their various after- school activities. Occasionally, I may “get out” to run a few errands or go to the gym. In the evening we come home, eat, do homework, watch a little TV and off to bed we go.
So, what’s wrong with this picture?
Every one of those activities involves being indoors. Whether it’s in the home, in an office or school, in a car, in a grocery store, a bank or even a gym, we are moving from one indoor space to another. Besides the fact that indoor air quality is generally poor, it creates the feeling of being almost sealed inside and away from the outside world.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of their life inside: 87% of their life is in a building, then another 6% of their life in automobiles. That's only 7% of your entire life outdoors. That's only one half of one day per week outdoors.
In fact, we have a biological need to connect with nature and the outside world - it’s called The Biophilia Hypothesis. Biophilia comes from the Greek, meaning “love of life and the living world”, but the concept was made popular in 1984 by a biologist named E. O. Wilson. He believed we love nature and have a biological need to connect with it because it is the things in nature that helped us to survive and it is in our DNA. Contact with nature is as critical to our well-being as regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Nature is good for you
Although it’s intuitive, we now have more concrete evidence of its advantages. There are numerous studies that prove being outside in nature provides enormous health benefits including boosting your immune system, increasing energy, decreasing anxiety, depression and anger, helping you relax more, increasing concentration and even helping to lower your blood pressure.
For example, a study done by the University of Michigan found that people could remember 20% more after they had been for a walk where there were trees, than if they walked where there were busy streets. Another study by Stanford University found that walking in nature reduced feelings of anxiety and increased positive thoughts. Yet another group of researchers from the Universities of Utah and Kansas found that spending time in nature can boost problem-solving ability and creativity by +50%.
You might be saying to yourself, well that’s nice, but I’m a busy person and I have a life to lead. I’ll try to get outside when I can, but I don’t need another thing to have to think about - I have enough on my plate.
Well, here are 7 super easy and very sustainable ways to integrate nature into your everyday busy life.
1. Exercise outdoors - instead of always going to the gym (concrete building), try switching it up a little and using nature’s treadmill: walk along a local trail - or simply around your neighborhood, jog in a nearby park - or even around your local high school track. The point is to BE OUTSIDE.
Interestingly, when we exercise outdoors it’s perceived as easier because we’re in an attractive environment - and when we enjoy it, we have a good experience and we’re more likely to do it again. Watch how fast the time goes by when you exercise outside vs inside. You’ll probably push yourself further than you ever thought you could and your body will feel more energized.
2. Hold meetings/appointments outside - the next time you’re getting a team together, or you’re meeting a friend for coffee, consider doing it outside. Grab the picnic table near the cafeteria, sit outside at the coffee shop. Or, if you have a one-on-one session, try having a “walking” meeting around the company campus or neighborhood.
You see, when you spend time confined to a meeting room with artificial lighting, you’re taking in a lot of blue light - which contains more energy than red or orange light - and you’re constantly exposed to this high-energy light, which strains your eyes and decreases energy throughout the day.
When you go outside, however, you’re exposed to natural light and the many colors of nature. Studies on the effect of colors on our emotions have shown that we find the blues and greens of nature the most restful. They make us less anxious and reduce our stress levels. And that makes complete sense if we go back to The Biophilia Hypothesis that we talked about earlier - nature is what we are accustomed to looking at - we are reassured by green (grass, trees) and blue (water) on a very primitive level.
3. Walk barefoot - I know it sounds crazy, but we’re spending way too much time in our shoes. Remember as a kid when you would run around barefoot in your backyard on the grass, or at the beach on the sand or at the playground in the soil - remember how great it felt? Well, it’s time to be a kid again. There are actual health benefits to connecting your feet to the earth’s powerful electrons.
The earth is like a giant battery with natural low-level electrical charges. You know when you say “I feel grounded, or balanced, or centered”, well that’s how your body feels when it’s in contact with the electrical charges of the earth - you’re grounded and in harmony with nature.
Ideally you should ground yourself for 20 minutes per day - break it up into 10 minute sessions if you have to - maybe walk around your backyard barefoot if you have to talk on the phone, or while playing with your kids. When you start to do it regularly you’ll be reminded of how good it felt when you were a kid.
4. “Forest bath” during lunch: instead of sitting at your desk in front of a screen at lunch, take some time for yourself and go outside and just meander about. I mean slow and steady, not a brisk walk. As if you were “bathing”, stop and take in your surroundings using your 5 senses. Try sitting somewhere quietly, by yourself, with no distractions. 20 minutes a day can be very beneficial.
Using your senses, focus on the following: look around you and take in nature’s colors, seek out patterns - you’ll be surprised how much nature repeats itself. These patterns are scientifically proven to relax us and reduce stress. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds that nature provides - hear the birds chirping, the leaves rustling in the wind. Again, nature’s sounds are proven to relax us. Take a deep breath and smell the air, the trees, the flowers - inhale nature’s aromatherapy. Touch the plant/flower leaves around you, take off your shoes and feel the ground beneath you. Touch is a powerful relaxant. And if you’re eating your lunch outside, taste your food slowly, be aware of what your body is ingesting. Being mindful while eating will help with your digestion.
And if you’re stuck indoors, here are ways to connect with nature:
5. Bring the smell of the outdoors inside - nature’s plants and trees have compounds called phytoncides, which are natural oils found in the plant that help protect it. The main components of phytoncides are terpenes (d-limonene, a-pinene and camphene, to name a few) and that is what you smell in the air. There are many essential oils that have these terpenes, including the evergreens like Siberian Fir, Norway Pine, Tea Tree and Eucalyptus. Diffusing these oils indoors helps fight fatigue and tension as well as helps increase concentration.
6. Fill your house with plants - not only are they beautiful to look at (remember we love green), but they help get rid of the toxins in the air and help keep up humidity levels to support our breathing and skin. We are also more productive and creative when we work where there are plants.
Importantly, indoor air is low in negative ions (they are good for you) mainly because of electronic devices like TVs and computers, which suck them out. Plants give off negative ions and help purify the air - negative ions bond with and remove dust, mold and bacteria - which makes it healthier for us to breathe.
7. Take a green “micro-break” - a study from the University of Melbourne showed that spending as little as 40 seconds looking outside at nature can help restore concentration. Another study from the University of Rochester found that just a brief glimpse of the color green before doing a creative task is enough to increase creative performance. So go ahead, stare out that window and you will start to feel restored.
We all want to connect with nature, and finding the time can be hard. But hopefully you see that by taking just a few simple steps every day, you’re well on your way to supporting your health.