Why you should go outdoors

I have already written something about this a while back, but I think it’s worth writing about again. Yesterday I went for a run and listened to a very interesting podcast from the Why Factor (BBC World Service) called ‘Why does nature calm anxiety?‘ It’s well worth a listen, and it’s not long. What is amazing is that even pictures of natural scenery help calm people down. However of course going out in to the park or woods has extra benefits. It seems that being among trees in a forest or woodland is even more beneficial as the trees emit phytoncides that actively boost your immune system as you breathe. If you can’t get to an actual wood or forest then sitting under a tree in a park or even a city must be giving you some benefits I guess? Kate Humble, a presenter of nature programmes, finds solace in talking to trees. It could sound a bit mad, but I understand what she says about the solidity and ancientness of trees that makes them feel wise and understanding.

In the podcast one therapist talks about connecting with the earth by walking barefoot in the woods. There are some interesting articles about ‘grounding’ but little actual hard evidence. An article in the Washington Post describes the theory of how connecting with the earth can neutralise free radicals by transmitting a negative charge. Apparently it can also help re set Circadian rhythms, thereby helping you sleep better and relax.

I have done barefoot walking meditation in the past which was a very relaxing experience. I am not a regular barefoot walker (let alone runner) for many reasons. Some are biomechanical – I don’t think most people are suited to long term barefoot walking/running especially on hard surfaces like city pavements. Some are safety – I don’t want to step in something horrible or dangerous. Some are just plain embarrassment! I freely admit that I don’t want to look crazy slowly walking barefoot around the woods, even if it is going to boost my immune system!

I can become quite evangelical about getting outside though, and it doesn’t have to be for a run. Walking round the park, sitting under a tree on a bench looking at the ornamental lake and the ducks is a relaxing experience. Connect with the earth in your garden. Look after a pot plant. Notice your natural surroundings, and take a few moments to focus on them. I really believe that being outside is good for physical and mental health, and we should all be aiming to get out there as much as possible.

All the photos here were taken yesterday on my run locally in Ealing, west London. Beautiful flowers and trees in Pitshanger Park, Perivale Park, Bitterns Field and the Bunny Park.

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