Many of us, myself included, have likely spent too much time binge-watching Netflix through the cold days of winter (no judgment). Now that spring has finally arrived, it is hard to ignore the desire to start spending more time outside. Popular spring activities such as getting an early start to the garden, cycling to work, or taking a brisk walk are all great ways to get us outside and moving.
While the physical health benefits of getting active may seem obvious, and while spending time on your bike or in your garden has known positive environmental benefits, a growing body of evidence shows that there is a connection between our exposure to greenspace and our health.
After spending time outside in nature, I often feel happier, calmer, and more satisfied — which is one reason why I love my local park.
Have you heard the popular term Vitamin N (N for nature), coined by author and journalist Richard Louv? Or perhaps you’ve heard the term Vitamin G (G for greenspace)? Another is biophila (our bond to other living things), made popular by biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson.
Whatever you want to call it, stress relief, increased cognitive function, and improved immune function are a few of the health benefits that are possible by increasing your exposure to nature.
In particular, a report entitled Green City: Why Nature Matters to Health – An Evidence Review found a consistent relationship between mental health and exposure to greenspace. Research suggests that time spent in nature can decrease levels of anxiety and depression.
More good news is that you do not need to flee the city or immerse yourself in the wilderness for days to experience the positive health impacts from connecting with nature. Many studies suggest that having greenspace within one kilometre of your home provides the most health-related benefits, so you can feel good about exploring the parks that exists right within your neighbourhood.
Exposure to nature is important for all of us, but especially for children. Children benefit from a higher dose of nature, as they experience a reduction in stress, an increase in creativity, building of self-esteem, and enhanced concentration skills, as listed in the Pathway to Stewardship and Kinship Guide.
Children — and I would argue adults too — do not have enough opportunities to connect with nature, a phenomenon Richard Louv named ‘nature-deficit disorder’. It can be a struggle to get our kids off their tablets or video games.
Often when I think about spending time outside with the kids, I get stuck on doing the same activity, like going for a walk. Don’t get me wrong, a walk can be great, but lately I’ve been thinking about new opportunities for my family to slow down and interact on a deeper level with the greenspace around us.
Here are a few ideas I’m trying out. Maybe these are some new ways you and your family can choose to enjoy the greenspace in your neighbourhood:
- Get to know the trees. Locate a few of your favourite trees in the neighbourhood and spend some quality time with them. Try giving a tree a hug — seriously! Hold a branch or leaf in your hand, feel the textures on and around the tree, and look at the patterns in the bark. No need to worry about having to identify the tree, just spend some time slowly noticing things that you may not have otherwise noticed if you had dashed past.
- Watch and talk to the water. Peterborough has a number of waterways flowing through its neighbourhoods. If you are lucky enough to have a local creek, river, or lake close to your home, try spending some time near the water. Hearing the sounds of water, enjoying the pattern on the water’s surface, and watching the way the light reflects on water can impact our health for the better. Spend some time by the water; you can tell the water how grateful you are for all it does such as quenching your thirst and keeping you clean. Take some time to skip stones, or try to find critters in the creek (with adult supervision, of course).
- Notice the birds and bugs. Find a peaceful place in your neighbourhood to listen to the birds. This could be from the sidewalk, in your backyard, or in a local park. If you can see a bird, try to identify some nearby food sources, figure out which bird is singing, or try to follow a bird around. If birds are too fast-paced for you, then ants are slower and very enjoyable creatures to watch. Watch ants as they travel, see if you can follow their route, and discover how they are able to carry so much weight.
- Watch a plant grow. Locate an interesting plant growing in your neighbourhood. I can be as simple as a dandelion in your front yard or a bulb you planted last fall. Grab your favourite journal and visit the plant each week. Spend some time observing the plant’s growth, the insects that are visiting it, other plants growing around it, the movement of the light, and how the plant shape and colour may change from week to week.
If you’re looking for more ways to get outside and explore your neighbourhood this spring, consider attending a Jane’s Walk. Several Jane’s Walks have been arranged through the month of May. Visit www.greenup.on.ca/program/janes-walk-peterborough/ for more details.
If you’re looking for opportunities to get your hands dirty, you can volunteer with GreenUP programs. Check the GreenUP Calendar of Events at www.greenup.on.ca/events/ frequently as community planting projects will be posted throughout the planting season.
If you need an incentive to get active this May, Shifting Gears active transportation challenge runs from May 1st to 31st. Registration is now open at peterboroughmoves.com. New participants can register early to take advantage of New-to-Shifting workshops, which begin next week to get you ready in time to shift gears this May.