Bet­ter out than in: the mer­its and joys of spend­ing more time out­doors

We live too much of our lives in­doors. Spend­ing more time out­side im­proves our mood, eye­sight, health and san­ity,

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Rachel Kelly

I’m writ­ing this out­side, sit­ting on a bench in my lo­cal park. The odd cab­bage white flut­ters by as I lux­u­ri­ate in late-af­ter­noon sun and the scent of the last of the pur­ple lilacs. Why, I ask my­self, did I not re­alise the joys of an out­door of­fice sooner?

For the past year or so, I’ve spent much of my day out­doors. I’m of­ten out­side three or four hours a day in the sum­mer months; admittedly less so in win­ter. Wher­ever I can, I now swap in­door for out, be it cy­cling in­stead of tub­ing, or ex­er­cis­ing in the park in­stead of a gym. So much so that I am of­ten asked if I’ve been away, given my new freck­led look.

Yes, you may be think­ing, it’s all well if you are a free­lance writer. But what about those of us who de­pend on Wifi? And how does this work for us of­fice slaves, re­quired to be at our desks? And avail­able for meet­ings in air­less in­te­rior rooms?

It’s true: my new life is en­abled by work which doesn’t re­quire con­stant con­nec­tiv­ity. But while lack of Wifi is an ob­vi­ous dis­ad­van­tage of the out­door of­fice, and re­quires some plan­ning, it may also be a virtue, at least for peo­ple seek­ing to dis­con­nect.

Em­ploy­ees may also in fu­ture be given more flex­i­bil­ity by their bosses. Some en­light­ened firms are al­ready real­is­ing the ben­e­fits of al­low­ing work­ers to re­turn to some­thing more akin to the life our an­ces­tors en­joyed. They’ve re­alised such an ap­proach may pay div­i­dends in pro­duc­ing a health­ier, more pro­duc­tive work­force.

Wel­come to the rise of the ‘walk­ing’ meet­ing, for ex­am­ple. Who wouldn’t pre­fer a walk ’n’ talk with their col­leagues, rather than be­ing hemmed in by walls, lit by ar­ti­fi­cial light and breath­ing air that has been con­di­tioned?

We all have an in­nate ten­dency to con­nect with na­ture, honed over mil­lions of years – known by psy­chol­o­gists as bio­philia. Our bod­ies un­der­stand this in­tu­itively, and yet a study pub­lished in

Na­ture mag­a­zine found that the av­er­age Amer­i­can spent a whop­ping 87 per cent of their time in­doors, and six per cent in cars and ve­hi­cles. A re­cent Ex­eter Univer­sity study found that peo­ple who spend at least two hours in na­ture a week re­ported bet­ter phys­i­cal and men­tal health than those who don’t go out.

Teach­ers are learn­ing from this new out­door ap­proach. Who says chil­dren have to study in­side? They too can es­cape the great in­doors, as we have seen with the rise of the For­est School move­ment, which en­cour­ages pupils to spend a sus­tained pe­riod of time in a wood­land en­vi­ron­ment. It is a phi­los­o­phy based on a rich her­itage of out­door learn­ing go­ing back to the 19th cen­tury and to philoso­phers, nat­u­ral­ists and cam­paign­ers such as Wordsworth, Ruskin and Baden-pow­ell.

Given the wor­ry­ing rise in short­sight­ed­ness among the young, the need is press­ing. In Sin­ga­pore, 85 per cent of young peo­ple suf­fer from my­opia, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Pe­di­atric Oph­thal­mol­ogy and Stra­bis­mus (mean­ing the con­di­tion of hav­ing a squint).

Our eyes need to be ex­posed to good-qual­ity light to de­velop prop­erly, while Sin­ga­pore’s hyper-com­pet­i­tive ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has meant that chil­dren are buried in­doors. Almost all schools could in­crease the length and fre­quency of play­times out­doors, and timetable lessons to al­low for walk­ing out­side between classes.

Be­ing out­side is just the lat­est of my strate­gies to ward off an old friend of mine, the black dog of de­pres­sion. In my thir­ties, 15 years ago, I suf­fered two ma­jor de­pres­sive episodes for which I was hos­pi­talised. Over the years, I’ve as­sem­bled and writ­ten about a toolkit of strate­gies to keep the dog on a tight leash: ev­ery­thing from the so­lace of con­sol­ing po­etry to the power of good mood food.

Get­ting out more am­pli­fies the ben­e­fits of many of my ex­ist­ing ap­proaches. A poem con­soles even more, I find, when re­cited in the open air.

Who would have thought my shriv­elled heart Could have re­cov­ered green­ness?

Th­ese lines, from Ge­orge Her­bert’s The Flower, are even more powerful when brought to mind when one is out­side, sur­rounded by the very na­ture that Her­bert de­scribes.

The wis­dom of the old adage mens sana in cor­pore sano is even more ob­vi­ous when you es­cape a shaded, seden­tary world. I know that when I’m out in the sun­shine my body is ab­sorb­ing vi­ta­min D, of which most of our sup­plies are made by our skin on ex­po­sure to sun­light. Far bet­ter than tak­ing a sup­ple­ment.

Spend­ing more time out­side is em­pow­er­ing. It feels as if I can make a dif­fer­ence to my own well­be­ing, be­cause I can! I need not wait to see a psy­chi­a­trist or ther­a­pist. I am, as W E Hen­ley writes in In­vic­tus, the master of my fate, the cap­tain of my soul. And some­one who can walk out through the front door.

If only I had kicked the in­door habit sooner.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.