Get outside to unplug from technology, soak in the benefits nature has to offer

We could all use a little more green in our lives. No, I don’t mean money, although that would be nice.

Now that the temperature is consistently warm (knock on wood), my excuse for staying indoors has melted away with the snow.

Last week, my Biology 105B class took a field trip to Bay City State Park. The trees and shrubs were still bare and the breeze from the lake made me shiver, but it was also an incredibly peaceful area. For a good chunk of my day, I wasn’t worrying about tests or projects or papers; I was just breathing. Well, breathing and categorizing soil for class.

Spending time outside put me in a better mood, and I’m not the only one who feels that way. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, research shows spending time around trees reduces stress, lowers blood pressure and improves overall mood.

More than that, the department says spending time in nature improves focus, giving our overactive minds a break and restoring our patience.

The department also says exposure to plants is an immune system booster. The process by which plants do so is a little over my head, but it basically means fresh air is good for you; I guess that’s one more thing my parents were right about.

Other benefits include quicker surgery or illness recovery time, increased energy and improved sleep. The site also states that these health benefits can occur within just five minutes spent around vegetation.

I also see time spent in nature as a learning experience. I recently scheduled two nature-centered trips  – one to the Headlands Dark Sky Night Park with Outside SVSU and one with my mother to the Porcupine Mountains. During these trips, I hope not only to see nature at its finest but also to get more in touch with the world around me.

That sounded a little more free-spirited than I intended. I mean to say everything in nature is connected, and I like taking time to recognize that I’m part of that connection, too.

As philosopher George Santayana said, “The earth has music for those who listen.” There is always something more we can learn from the world around us but only if we stop and take the time to observe.

In observing, we’re forced to unplug and look up from our devices. At first I thought putting my phone away and taking the scenic route to class would be a fairly easy way to work outdoor time into my schedule.

I was wrong. I can’t go long without texting friends, checking my email, Googling the health benefits of outdoor time or doing whatever else comes to mind. I have to face the facts; I’m a serial multitasker.

I’m not the only one, either. My worst habit is working on my phone while walking, so I decided to do a little test. While sitting on a bench near the Marketplace, I counted 20 of 50 passerbys who were on their devices while walking. And that was just in an eight-minute time span.

Many of us don’t even use walking time to take a quick mental break. I think this inability to focus relabeled as “multitasking” hurts rather than helps us. As I said before, time spent observing nature improves focus and forces us to pocket our devices.

Though I believe observing is the most effective, a number of activities can be spent outside. I remember how I used to complain to my parents that there wasn’t anything to do outside. Now I find more of my favorite activities are spent outdoors rather than indoors: picnicking, hiking, biking, photographing, studying, reading, journaling, chatting, playing cards, puddle jumping, not to mention my childhood favorites of hula hooping, jump roping, blowing bubbles, drawing with chalk and playing active games like tag – all can be done outside.

All that said, I challenge you to spend at least 20 minutes in nature daily. The only stipulations are that you cannot use your devices and at least five minutes must be spent observing.

Observation time can be as simple as pocketing your cell phone en route to class. And when the weather’s too rough to permit outdoor activity, just open a window and look outside. The benefits of going outdoors far outweigh the excuses for staying indoors.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 13th, 2015 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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