13 Benefits of Spending Time Outside

On an after-dinner family walk around our block.

We've completed Week 1 of the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge (30 minutes outside in nature for 30 straight days). I'm posting weekly on my blog and several times throughout the week on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #30x30challenge about our experiences and would love to read your comments and posts about your experiences completing the challenge as well.

For those who need some extra motivation to get outside, may I remind you that the benefits of being outside in nature are now very well-documented. I scanned a bunch of articles and quickly put together the following list.

Spending time in nature
  • reduces stress
  • improves attention and memory
  • speeds recovery from surgery
  • reduces pain
  • promotes good health
  • boosts immune function
  • improves creativity
  • improves mood and energy levels
  • boosts empathy
  • relieves anxiety and depression
  • improves cognition
  • extends life span
Sources: Spending time in nature makes people feel more alive, study shows; Medical: Spending time outside has many health benefits; The Claim: Exposure to Plants and Parks Can Boost Immunity; Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity and Health; Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning; The Value in Reconnecting with Nature; Health Benefits to Children from Contact with the Outdoors & Nature

I'll mention one more benefit I reflected upon this week: community! When we spend time outside in our neighborhood, we frequently cross paths with our neighbors. These impromptu interactions lead to learning each other's names, planning play dates, and the borrowing and lending of tools. 

Here is how our first week of the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge went. 

Swinging in the backyard.
(I mentioned Day 1 in my first post.)

Friday (Day 2). I was recovering from some horrible stomach thing and did not feel up to taking my kids to our normal Friday afternoon park day (where we meet up with other families). In order to reach our 30 minute quota, I lured my children outside with promises to push them on our swings. We also ate dinner outside. My son exclaimed, "I see the half moon!" We cut roses from our out-of-control rose bushes to bring inside.

"I see the moon!" Do you?

Saturday (Day 3). I took an afternoon walk by myself while my kids played outside with Papi. Although spending 30 minutes outside with my kids is great and still the focus of my personal 30 x 30 Nature Challenge, spending 30 minutes walking outside by myself was awesome. I wish I could do this more. We also spent at least 30 minutes outside early that morning at the farmers market, which I personally count as time in nature, since many of the plants were in the ground that same morning.

Sunday (Day 4). We went for a walk around the block as a family after dinner. My 4yo said, "I hear crickets," and we all stopped to listen. My 2yo pointed out spider webs. We chatted with our across-the-street neighbors who were playing badminton out front and my husband arranged to borrow a saw.

Searching for spiders' webs.

Monday (Day 5). Kids enjoyed swinging in the backyard again. We heard our backyard neighbor kid up in his tree, and my kids then discovered they could see over our fence into their yard by climbing a small tree in our backyard. Incidentally, we only know these backyard neighbors because they saw us out walking with our kids. We went for a walk again after dinner and saw horses, which folks often take for walks in our neighborhood (the horses reside on several nearby large properties and ranches).

We sometimes see horses from nearby ranches out for a trot on our evening walks.

Tuesday (Day 6). We go for a walk after dinner again. This was the only reason we got 30 minutes outside that day. These after-dinner walks, incidentally, are all my husband's idea. A wonderful way to wear down a 2yo.

Tangled webs like these often have a little tunnel (can you see it?).
I've caught a few spiders just before they scurried back down them on our walks.

Wednesday (Day 7). I bring magnifying glasses into the backyard to look at bugs and the kids fight over who gets which magnifying glass (nobody looks at bugs). Walk after dinner again. We weren't planning to go , but my 6yo had a full-on conniption when we said we weren't. Three days apparently establishes an inviolable routine. My 2yo's antics require an increasingly large dose of patience. She stops at every bush to look at every single spider web. She also stops to looks at every tiny thing (be it poop or a tree dropping of some sort) on the sidewalk.

Wait, I think I see a spider web.

"I love spider webs!" Our 2yo stops to count every. single. one.


Thursday (Day 8). Probably our lamest day thus far! I took my kids to the children's museum after school. I meant to get our 30 minutes outside in their garden helping to water the plants, but timed it wrong and got there just as the garden was closing. My kids were not pleased. So we only spent about 10 minutes in the garden and then another 10-odd minutes together in the backyard. I spent most of that 10 minutes refereeing arguments, so my outdoor time was not particularly relaxing nor rejuvenating. My kids were in the backyard for much longer and definitely got their 30 minutes in. My husband got home very late from work and there was no after-dinner walk.

If I spend enough time in the backyard with my kids, I might figure out their rock economy.

Are the rocks money? Or are they buying and selling the rocks? I don't know.

So, time outside with kids is not always idyllic. While I think unstructured, unsupervised, kid-directed outside play is important, I get tired of listening to my kids whine and squabble while I'm outside with them and may need to have some more specific activities planned for this next week (I'll be consulting my own list for ideas). Still, I'm glad we are making outside time a priority. It forces me to slow down and accept that I'm going to get fewer things done. Which I think is a healthy mentality for those caring for small children.

Check out additional 30 x 30 Nature Challenge posts here.

Other Challengers
Don't miss my fellow Green Phone Boothers Queen Composter and Ecoyogini posting all month about the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge on their blogs Eco-journey in the Burbs and Ecoyogini.

Did you get outside this week?

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