Look outside and winter is knocking on the door – it’s dark by 4:30pm, the trees look skeletal and lifeless, and that chilly wind turns your nose and ears to ice. Brrrrr!
I admit, I’m never good at this time of year. I really don’t like the cold. My hands and feet feel like they are permanent iceblocks.
But the other day, I realised it had been over a month (where has the time gone) since I’d ventured into the Northumberland wilderness to climb volcano number nine. But more shocking than that – I haven’t actually laced up my walking boots and wandered away from civilisation since and gone on an adventure.
Instead, I’ve been huddling inside, trying to keep warm and daydreaming of summer. And truth be told, that’s getting me down – and reason enough to get out into the countryside.
The fact is, the outdoors are beautiful at any time of year – the rusty reds of autumn leaves, the crisp white frosts sparkling in winter sunshine, the colour pop of spring blossoms.
So when do you know if you might have four-wall syndrome and can’t remember the last time you appreciated the great outdoors? Here are five signs you need an injection of nature, quick smart.
- You feel down or depressed
It’s easy to get the blues when it becomes cold, wet and dark but numerous studies show that getting outside and into nature has a positive impact on our moods and can lower the risk of depression. This is believed to be partly because of the calming influence of nature, as well as the release of happy chemicals when we exercise (ie walking) outside. But it’s also because being outside increases our exposure to the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D, which has been linked to boosting moods. Meanwhile, a lack of sunshine, in general, is believed to play a role in seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the winter months.
- You’re stressed
The run up to the festive season tends to be manic with a million and one things that need to be completed before everyone goes on holiday. But more generally, people who live in cities increasingly complain of high levels of stress. Enter the great outdoors. There have been studies that show the calming effect of nature can reduce physiological indicators of stress and anxiety, such as high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and heart rate. Furthermore, being active outside is a great, well-known stress-buster.
- You’re stuck in a permanent sitting-at-your-computer-position
This is so me – if there was a flashing neon sign above my head it would scream workaholic. I’m always perpetually busy so that when I finally come up for air the sun has long been down and the thought of going out in the dark and cold is decidedly untempting. But this is all the more reason to make it a priority to get outside and into nature. Research shows that being sedentary for long periods of time increases your chances of an early death and that inactivity may actually be worse for your health than being overweight.
- You’re enjoying the Christmas comfort food a little too much
It’s understandable – it is Christmas mince pie season after all. And I for one know that when I’m cold I tend to pig out a little bit more. But if your only recent exercise is reaching for a second helping then the outdoors should be calling. Eating more calories than we expend is the fast-track way to putting on weight. But 30 minutes of walking outdoors can equate to burning around 100 calories. Furthermore, getting active outdoors is good for digestion and decreases constipation.
- The concrete jungle is driving you crazy
As much as we might love the buzz of the city, there are times when you can’t get past the fact that there’s just too many people, too many cars, too many buildings, too much noise and too much pollution. It just makes you want to scream. That feeling of clostrophobia, alienation and being out of touch with the great outdoors has sometimes been called nature deficit disorder. When you start to feel overwhelmed by the big city you know it’s time to step away from the bright lights. Getting an injection of nature and the great outdoors is like pushing the reset button and gives you a much deserved break.
What’s stopping you from getting outside and enjoying nature more? Let me know in the comments below.