The Great (Healthy) Outdoors
Fresh ways to get a mind-body boost
Humans aren’t meant to spend their lives in cubicles, cars, and deep, soft armchairs. We’re programmed to thrive in nature, says Harvard Medical School’s John Ratey, M.D., author of Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization. Time outside—especially when you’re in motion—ups your mood, sharpens your thinking, and makes you feel calmer and even more generous. So take advantage of summer with these little adventures. Do them all or repeat your faves as often as you want. All that matters is that you get outdoors and love it!
1 ENJOY YOUR COFFEE OUTSIDE
We don’t mean you should glug it down while dashing from the house to the car. Sit and sip in the early-morning sunlight and see how good it makes you feel. Dining outdoors may even reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says clinical exercise physiologist Paul Innerd, Ph.D., of the University of Sunderland in the U.K.
2 GET HIKING
Some of the world’s most beautiful places are accessible only on foot, and following a trail to get somewhere can be absorbing, inspiring, and humbling. Go to a trail and set out on anything from a 30-minute walk to a solid half-day hike. You can find a footpath in a nearby local, state, or national park via the American Hiking Society’s “Hikes Near You” tool on its site (americanhiking.org).
3 KICK OFF YOUR KICKS
Walking barefoot has real health benefits. “Without the support of shoes, the muscles of your feet have to work harder, which makes them stronger,” says Irene Davis, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.That can mean fewer problems (like plantar fasciitis) down the road. Plus, your feet are full of nerves, so strolling through soft grass or on a sandy beach is a real treat.
4 HAVE A WALKING MEETING
Ditch the conference room, and you might get more done, suggests Anita Sanchez, Ph.D., a consultant and executive coach in Boulder, CO. Not only do walking meetings get your energy up, but stepping out side by side with your coworkers creates a sense of equality (nobody’s at the head of the table) that may help resolve problems better, she says.
5 WIND THROUGH A LABYRINTH
Do what the ancient Vikings did and walk a labyrinth, an elaborate, twisting path used for self-reflection and meditation. No idea where to find one? Visit labyrinth locator.com to discover your nearest option or simply walk a swirling path in your yard or a park.
6 DO A 7-MINUTE WORKOUT OUTDOORS
You don’t need fancy equipment or even a lot of time to squeeze in a great workout. Just go outside and find something sturdy to step up on, like a bench. Then do seven minutes’ worth of exercise. Yes, that’s it! Scientists have found that this amount of intense exercise can do as much good as a longer cardio session plus a workout with weights. Check out the Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout app for some moves, or just do stuff like jumping jacks, planks, step-ups, and squats. Aim for seven to 12 exercises; do each for 30 seconds and rest for 10 seconds before the next.
7 GO ON AN URBAN SAFARI
Think your neighborhood lacks wildlife?Take a pause and really pay attention. Challenge yourself to find three wild critters—whether they’re big, small, rare, or common— on your next walk. These tips from Gavin Van Horn, coeditor of City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness, can help:
• Go to water sources, even ones that are human-made.
• Head out early. That’s when the wild things rule.
• You’ll see more if you move with stealth.
• Don’t overlook the mundane:
Even squirrels are pretty charismatic!
8 STROLL YOUR NEAREST CITY
When you want to get to know a place, hoof it on a walking tour—check TripAdvisor to find opinions on the best local spots.The slower pace lets you take in details you’d miss in a car. Extra-fun: themed walking tours like architectural highlights, ghost tours, or routes that hit the best gardens.
9 USE WAIT TIME FOR GOOD
Sneak in some body-toning moves while the grill heats up. Do inclined push-ups against the deck railing and triceps dips off a sturdy bench, throw in some squats and lunges, and before you know it, dinner will be ready!
10 PLANT SOMETHING
Gardeners have more to grin about than the size of their tomatoes. People who get their hands in dirt are generally happier and healthier, says a 2015 study in the Journal of Public Health. (At play may be a microbe in soil that some scientists think acts as an antidepressant—talk about brain health!) Tap into the power of dirt even without a yard: Plant a container herb garden on a patio or in a window box. You’ll reap the benefits as well as the joy of sprinkling your crop on everything you eat.
11 PULL OVER!
On a road trip, unmold your butt from that car seat at a scenic overlook and take a couple of minutes to stretch.To target spots that get troubled by driving, try these two simple moves:
• Stretch your calves by placing your toes against a curb, heel on the street.
• Find a lamppost and place your right elbow and forearm against it (elbow bent at 90 degrees, fingertips pointing up). Lean forward to open your chest. Repeat on the other side.
12 PLAN A NEW ADVENTURE
Big experiences have merit, especially when they’re things you don’t usually do, like rafting and horseback riding. Learning keeps you sharp, and conquering challenges can give you rockstar confidence. America’s public lands make the perfect setting for a rewarding journey, so consider investing in an America the Beautiful Pass. Just $80 gets you access to more than 2,000 recreation spots across the U.S.
13 HAVE A MIDDAY ENERGY BREAK
Keep an afternoon crash away with a 15-minute lunchtime walk. One study found that this is all it takes to have better concentration and less fatigue throughout the workday. Bonus move: Climb every set of stairs you see.
15 CELEBRATE THE FULL MOON WITH A NIGHT HIKE
The nighttime soundscape and the views of the stars can make the walk memorable. Look for expert-guided night hikes through noted nature spots in your area. Nervous about stumbling around? Bring a flashlight with a red filter or tissue paper over it so you can navigate around roots and ruts while preserving your night vision.
14 TAKE YOUR DOWNWARD DOG OUT TO THE YARD
With Sun Salutations, you’re literally saluting the sun. But the sun can’t see you in that yoga studio. Unroll your mat on the grass and try this: Stand, take a few deep breaths, then move to Cat/Cow. Push back into Downward Dog. Lower into a high plank. Step into a lunge, stand up, and repeat.