As it's national gardening week, we thought we discuss the benefits of natural outdoor activities - doing it naturally, so to speak. These days there seems to be a ready-made option for just about every conceivable situation. While this seems so convenient, it’s worth pausing to consider what we might be denying ourselves by opting for ‘the path of least resistance’.
You know the adverts, telling us, ‘don’t worry, we’ve got this covered’. A pre-packaged, ready-made solution for every possible challenge, and insurance against just about any eventuality. Seems so reassuring, and time-saving. And yet, we appear to be left with less spare time and more stress than ever! It just doesn’t add up, so we got to thinking that some of this ‘time-saving’ may actually be denying us the very opportunities we need to slow down and truly taste life.
Let me give you a green-fingered example of my own. I love gardening, but I’ve come to realise that what I enjoy most about it is using my hands and directly engaging with the work - literally making my mark. It doesn’t feel the same when I use a petrol-powered mower, electric hedge trimmer and strimmer - the list goes on... I know because I used to use these ‘time-saving’ tools. Yes, it’s generally slower by hand, but that very engagement is what’s so enjoyable and it feels more personal and more rewarding. What would I be saving time for, if I don’t get to slow down and engage in this manner? And then there’s a myriad of other benefits - the free workout I get by using a push-mower and sculpting the hedge with my trusty shears - not to mention topping up my vitamin D!. Tending the front garden is also an opportunity to chat and catch up with my neighbours - I find I’m not quite so approachable with a whizzing electric saw in my hand! The point is not to shun technology, but rather to consider what serves us best, and when.
Let’s consider a most important topic - our physical and emotional well-being. There’s a pill designed to make us slimmer, bulkier, bigger, stronger, younger, sexier, happier…..a whole industry has built up around this. But it seems to take us - you and I - out of the equation, and can feel, ultimately, very disempowering. At the beginning of each year (costly) gym memberships tend to be at their peak. Certainly the gym offers a convenient, ready-made place to workout, and undoubtedly many benefit from this. And while there can be a social element to it, the inescapable full-length gym mirrors seem to make self-preoccupation and comparison to others inevitable. Indeed, research has shown that exercise in a natural outdoor environment is better for our emotional well-being than indoors (1). Participants reported ‘greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy’ following outdoor exercise (compared to indoor). That’s an impressive list! There was also a reported greater enjoyment with outdoor activity and, very importantly, a greater tendency to repeat the activity. It seems that activity outdoors literally helps to take us out of ourselves and be more expansive and engaged; while indoors, (e.g. the gym) tends to lead to a turning in of self, i.e. heightened self-consciousness. Even if you feel you’re not the outdoors type, why not give it a go? You’ve nothing to lose (Iiterally, as it’s free), potentially much to gain, and it can be as easy as a walk in the park!
Dr Chris Murphy, co-founder Sleep Organic
(1) Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environ Sci Technol. 2011;;45(5):1761-72.