OurLife: Make the Great Outdoors great again

By Bob Ramsey

OurLife Columnist

There’s an antidote for the blues and the “blahs,” for boredom and burnout and for lethargy and “inner inertia.” It’s called “outdoors.” Too many people—especially seniors—don’t get outside enough.

Spending time outdoors is good for your health at every age. There’s a reason why teachers want kids to go outside during recess. “Fresh air and exercise” really are good for you, and big kids need to get outside to play too.

That’s why biking, hiking, camping, canoeing, fishing, hunting, skating, skiing, swimming, running and even walking are such popular outdoor physical activities. It’s why outdoor sports like baseball, soccer, tennis and golf attract thousands of participants every year. Being active outside helps us stay fit and healthy, and it’s fun.

But you don’t have to be an elite athlete or a fitness nut to benefit from being out-of-doors. Mother Nature is open 24-hours a day and free of charge for everyone—even couch potatoes, tech geeks and the athletically challenged. As it turns out, even doing nothing while outside is good for you. Enjoying time spent outdoors isn’t just good for your physical health, it’s good for your mental health. All you have to do is show up and pay attention.

Getting close to nature has a calming effect on the mind. It promotes perspective and clarity. Things seem less complicated out in the open; and it’s difficult to stay stuck in negativity out where the sun is shining and the sky is blue. That’s why treatment and rehab centers often feature natural settings and plenty of outdoors areas.

Likewise, the senior community where I live faces a city street and nearby stores and professional buildings, while behind lies a quiet park featuring a small lake. I tell visitors that we can walk out the front door into the midst of commerce and the community and out the back door into the more pastoral serenity of a natural setting. It’s the best of both worlds.

Naturally, residents gravitate to the park and frequently sit on the park benches to enjoy the view or walk around the lake at their own pace. It’s nature’s therapy at work.

Obviously, there is something peaceful, grounding and healing in the sights, sounds and sensations of the outdoors and in observing nature’s critters at work and play.

Like the time I was dozing by a pool when I awoke with a start, because something was nibbling on my fingers. It was a squirrel. I frantically tried to chase it away; but it refused to be chased. Eventually, it left of its own accord when I ceased to be entertaining (or tasty).

Then, I began wondering. Can I catch something from this squirrel? Is there such a thing as “squirrel fever?” What about rabies? I worked myself into such a tizzy I ended up going to urgent care, where the doctor assured me I was OK.

Even such a misadventure with nature, however, provided welcome relief from everyday pressures. Nature nurtures our mental wellness in many ways.

And lastly, experiencing the outdoors not only boosts your physical and mental health, it’s good for our spiritual well-being as well.

Getting outdoors is good for our soul. It replenishes the spirit. Feeling God’s presence through nature allows you to follow author Ian Brown’s advice to “let your inner butterfly out.”

Enjoying nature first-hand (not through a TV, computer or hand-held device) improves your mind, body and spirit. There will always be lots of excuses for avoiding the out-of-doors; but there are no good reasons.

Thoreau was right when he said, “We can never have too much nature.” That’s why F. Scott Fitzgerald lamented later in life, “After reading Thoreau, I felt how much I have lost by leaving nature out of my life.” You don’t want to make the same mistake.

It’s time to make the great outdoors great again—in our minds, our daily routines and our lifestyles. Enough cocooning. Follow you teacher’s advice and “Go out and play!”

___

Bob Ramsey is a lifelong educator, freelance writer and advocate for Vital Aging. He resides in St. Louis Park and can be contacted at 952-922-9558 or by email at joyrammini@comcast.net.