It’s a cold Autumn morning but I feel better than I normally do at this time of year.
That’s because I’ve been making a conscious effort this week to haul myself outside every day.
In Spring / Summer, getting outdoors comes naturally.
But at this time of year, it takes a conscious push to get yourself outside.
When you’re indoors looking out the window, it always looks colder and darker than it really is when you get out there. Or, to put it positively, it’s always warmer and lighter outside than you would have guessed. And if you can overcome the gravitational pull of the sofa, great rewards await you.
By getting outside we tell our bodies that we’re on the move and making progress. We feel the breeze (and if we’re lucky some winter sunshine), we hear the birds and all the other sounds of the natural world: all subtle cues that we are alive and all is well. These are the inestimable advantages of living a more natural life.
To anyone asking what this has to do with saving money, let me explain. Spending time in nature is good for your soul. It’s calming on a level that no retail therapy or anti-depressant can ever manage. Spending time outside in nature may be free but it’s just not a cost-saving IT’S A LIFESTYLE UPGRADE.
This post is mostly just common sense. It may be advice that you’ve heard before. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good advice. Repetition is a feature not a bug on this website.
Being outside might make you happy. I’m not claiming to be an expert on your happiness…or even on my own. Much of the time our own feelings are a mystery to us. So who am I to tell you what will make you happy? All I’m doing here is sharing what works for me.
I have a dual approach to happiness. Firstly, I try to lower my expectations, practice gratitude and enjoy the little things. And secondly, I try to improve my world, my situation and my reality. Happiness comes when your (improved) reality exceeds your (lowered) expectations. You could summarise this arithmetically as:
Happiness = Reality – Expectations
In other words, you have 2 chances to win: two ways to improve your happiness:
- by expecting less; and /or
- by getting more.
Wouldn’t it be good if there were a low cost intervention that helped you achieve both of these at the same time?
Well it turns out that there is. And its one that’s particularly relevant at this time of year as winter draws in in the Northern hemisphere. And that is to get outside and take in the fresh air no matter where you are, town or country. Go outside today and spend as much time as you can out there. Walk, run, cycle, cook, read, work, chat, play. Just make it a point to spend time outdoors.
This advice still applies if it’s raining (have some waterproofs!) or snowing. I don’t think anywhere outdoors is entirely inhospitable at the moment. You might have to wrap up or keep moving to stay warm, but you can make it work. You can leave the excuses at home.
I could say that studies have shown that walking in nature can improve blood pressure, boost mental health, and decrease cancer risk. And they have. But I don’t need a study to tell me that chocolate tastes good, wine gets me drunk or that I feel better when I’ve spent time outdoors.
This is true in the best of times. But unfortunately we are not living in the best of times; we are living through a quiet mental health disaster. The fact that it’s largely self-inflicted only adds to to the tragedy. If I were an evil genius wanting to engineer such a disaster, I would tell people to stay home and cower indoors watching The News, doom-scrolling through social media and eating junk food.
Unfortunately the groundwork was laid for this health disaster long before 2020. For decades we’ve been struggling with sedentary lifestyles and the diseases of abundance (obesity, diabetes, heart disease etc). Throw in the cult of safetyism and you have all the ingredients for the perfect storm. I’m not blaming anyone, it is what it is.
Reducing your stress levels boosts your body’s immune system; no trivial thing during an epidemic that’s easily seen off by the overwhelming majority of healthy people (but not by a compromised immune system). We don’t get to choose the cards, but we can always play that hand we’re dealt.
I struggle as much as anyone with unplugging from the soap operas of The News and from social media. When you are a pitiful addict, it’s about baby steps: I have just deleted my second twitter account. It’s both pathetic and hilarious really. 🙂
Like I said, baby steps. Going for a walk, unplugging from the digital world and re-connecting with the natural world is essential for your mental health. If you can’t stop yourself from going on social media then leave your phone at home.
Anytime outside is better than none, but I try to focus on being outside for at least an hour around midday when the natural light is brightest. One of the joys of financial independence (or working for yourself) is control over your own schedule.
There are major benefits of viewing early morning sunlight by going outside within 30-60 minutes of waking. In summer, this combines well with a morning cup of coffee & reading or listening to a podcast. In winter, you probably want to be walking.
On bright cloudless days: view morning and afternoon light for 10 min; cloudy days: 20 min; very overcast days 30-60 min. Don’t wear sunglasses. This will boost dopamine production and “wake up” your circadian clock (which has the side benefit of allowing you to fall asleep more easily at night).
I’m a morning person so I try to get most of my work done in the morning between say 8am and 11.30am. As 11.30am rolls round it’s time to get outside (you have to start early as it can get dark quickly at this time of year) for a walk, run or mountain bike ride. Or perhaps (as the gym is currently shut) some weights outdoors on my patio.
Walking is an ancient health secret as mysteriously beneficial as sleep. People underrate it because it seems so mundane as a suggestion (plus its hard to monetise so advertisers won’t promote it). The beauty of walking is that it burns calories (not much less than jogging) without feeling like a struggle. This means it’s sustainable over the long term. Regular walking helps you get leaner, reduce stress, improve bloodflow, improve recovery, increase focus. It’s also a source of creative inspiration: ideas for blog posts or other new ventures.
Getting outside works everywhere but it’s best when combined with nature. There is something deeply calming about green fields, parks, moorland, mountains, coastline or (best of all for me) woodland. You can find your local woodland using this website.
Almost half the population in the UK are vitamin D deficient and this contributes to hormonal imbalances (e.g. lower testosterone levels in men). Sunlight exposure is good for you so walking outdoors and taking Vitamin D seem like no-brainers to me: no downside, large potential upside.
I’ve recently experimented with winter barbeques. As long as its not raining, it doesn’t matter how cold or gloomy it is: you can cook round a barbeque and enjoy the warmth radiating from the fire. Fires are not just good for warmth (although that’s nice), they’re sunshine substitutes in winter.
So get outside and see how you feel. See how you sleep that night. See how you feel the next day. How does the energy of the room feel? Are you and your family members getting on better? Do you have less inclination to wallow in social media and Netflix?
Maybe some of you will get the outdoor time and feel pretty normal, like nothing’s changed. That’s fine. Even still, having spent all that time outdoors soaking up sunlight will improve your circadian rhythm and should make sleep come more easily. It’s doing good things under the surface that you can’t quite perceive.
So today I have a mission for you. It’s not difficult. But it is important. Go outside for an hour today. Then reflect on how it was, how you felt outdoors and how you sleep afterwards. Then, go do it again as much as possible.
Want to feel better? Get outside!
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