I read a disturbing statistic the other day: The average American spends only ten minutes a day outside. Ten minutes! I find that fact disturbing because I fear it’s a sign we are losing direct contact with the natural world. And no direct contact with nature can breed unawareness, disregard or even a lack of respect for creation. The Book of Wisdom says, “For from the greatness and beauty of created things their author is seen.” If we cut ourselves off from creation we risk cutting ourselves off from the Creator.
But I was encouraged when I recently read how current scientific research supports our going outdoors. A study in Norway, for example, showed that people with moderate to severe depression who participated in a horticultural program experienced reduced symptoms after 12 weeks. Gardening seems to ease negative ruminations.
Another study in this country found that people who walked on an outdoor track moved faster, felt less exertion, and experienced more positive emotions than those who walked on an indoor treadmill. And people who walked in rural areas fared better than those who walked on city streets.
Studies further show that just looking at a beautiful natural scene stimulates those parts of the brain associated with balance and happiness. Along those same lines, the Japanese have believed for years that a walk in the woods (shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing” they call it) does wonders for the body and spirit. Now research supports that claim. And, according to researchers at Columbia University, just being in or near water—a lake, a waterfalls, breaking waves, a flowing river—can act as a natural anti-depressant.
We can look to the example of Jesus in this regard. Jesus spent most of his life outdoors. He taught, cured, ate, slept and prayed outdoors. He even died outdoors. He was extremely close to nature. Notice his use of vivid images such as the grain of wheat, the vine and the branches, water, fire, the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the shepherd with his sheep. He was also very familiar with natural processes such as weeds growing amid the wheat, yeast making the dough rise, wine fermenting, women giving birth, and various cloud formations indicating a change in the weather. One way we can follow Jesus more closely is to reclaim our love and respect for the natural world. And one way we can do that is to go outside!
How often do you get outside? Have you ever experienced any benefits from doing so?