The sun is shining. The temperatures are turning warmer. Our sweaters and winter coats have been put away in storage or neatly placed in the backs of our closets, ready to hibernate until those frosty days and nights return to New England.
We have officially begun the “good weather” portion of the year in Connecticut, and while many would argue that autumn, with its beautiful foliage and crisp cool nights absent any humidity, is when this part of the country truly shines, there’s no doubt that after even a mild winter, everyone is ready for the summer heat.
And while finding time to enjoy the outdoors should be an all-year occurrence, there’s no doubt that the chirping birds, longer days, and hotter temps all make spending hours in nature much more enticing. It can also produce a much healthier lifestyle.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, studies have shown that being outside in nature “is relaxing, reducing our stress, cortisol levels, muscle tension and heart rates — all of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.” Michelle Kondo, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, indicates that the more data medical experts accumulate the more the evidence seems to suggest that many chronic illness risks are connected to where one lives and less access to nature means a higher risk of suffering from a host of medical ailments.
The benefits reach beyond just the physical. The USDA also insists that “isolation is a killer,” and the more time spent outside and around people, the more one’s mental health is improved. The USDA website cites a recent study which asked two groups of subjects to perform mentally strenuous tasks, such as completing complex math problems. One group took their break from the tasks outdoors in a “green area” while the other was asked to take their break near a busy intersection. The results showed that those who took their break in the more natural setting showed better concentration and performed better at the different tasks.
All of this confirms what many seem to know instinctually. The more we stay inside, the more we crave going outside. This was no more evident than during the pandemic when, early on, even outdoor activities were discouraged and people were asked to simply stay shut in and away from individuals.
One doesn’t have to go on a long hike or climb a mountain in order to feel connected with the outside. No tent is needed. There are plenty of opportunities to explore what’s happening in nature just by sitting out in your backyard, doing some gardening, taking a walk on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, or packing up the bicycle and choosing a scenic route somewhere in the state.
It can be easy to get trapped inside, in front of our big-screen televisions or connected to our small-screen phones. Too often we trade looking at beautiful pictures of nature for actually getting out and seeing it personally. It’s an unhealthy way to live, and a cycle we all need to break.
New England weather is famously fickle. Cold and icy in the winter, often hot and humid in the depths of summer. We are often forced to huddle near our heaters or our air conditioning just to stay comfortable and safe. But then New England offers up some perfect days when the sun is bright, the breeze is gentle, and the sounds of nature inviting.
Don’t just watch it all from the corner of your couch or the chair in your home office. Don’t just open a window and take in a few deep breaths of air. Open the door and get outside. It will help you physically and emotionally — a cheap and easy way for all of us to improve our mind and body.