Take a hike! (to improve your health, sleep, and creativity)
It’s true you can lower your stress, boost your creativity, improve your work performance, and get a better night’s sleep all from just going outside. Yes, just walk outside, it’s lovely.
Studies have shown that taking time out of your day and going outside can reduce anxiety, stress levels, lower blood pressure and boost your immune system. One study with university employees found that there was a significant decrease in perceived stress and generalized health complains when people went outside more!
What are the evolutionary mechanics behind our love for the great outdoors?
Researchers speculate that it has something to do with the link to our past survival skills. As Evolutionary psychologist David Buss explains, “Throughout human existence, human biology has been embedded in the natural environment. Those who could smell the water, find the plants, follow the animals, and recognize the safe havens must have enjoyed survival advantages.”
So, in short: being outside connects us with our evolutionary past in a way that makes us feel like we are winning at life. If this sounds like a good excuse for you to go outside and hunt pigeons in Central Park, then by all means, you do you.
How does exposure to nature improve health, sleep and creativity?
Quite simply, when you feel better, you do everything else better. Getting your daily dose of sunshine increases levels of a natural antidepressant in your brain, and helps combat symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, low energy and excessive sleeping. Getting more sun also increases melatonin levels which helps you fall asleep faster and stay asleep.
Aside from the improvements that communing with nature does for your body and mind, a study conducted by the outdoor leadership non-profit Outward Bound in partnership with Professor of Cognitive and Clinical Psychology Ruth Ann Atchley found that it can recharge your creativity.
Atchley explains the value of nature to the human mind: “Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses, therefore, we have resources left over - to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve - that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.”
But how can I find nature if I work in a cubicle/cave/cave cubicle under the Port Authority Bus Terminal?
Never fear, brave office workers/bats/Transit-Authority-office-bats, there’s hope for you yet! Nature is really everywhere; finding a bench under a tree is sufficient. Just some sun, and fresh air (which I realize is a relative term for city folk) is all you need.
Also, there’s this nifty park finder app called Oh, Ranger! Just type in your location and it finds all parks within 100 miles of where you are. You can also stipulate your nature activity of choice, whether it be hiking, boating, or even disc golf for those of you who are reminiscent of your time spent at a midwestern liberal arts college (you know who you are).
Freelancers, do you find that you feel more creative on days when you have been outside more?