"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Creativity
June 4, 2018

Go Outside

Our patterns of work and leisure see us spend most – sometimes nearly all – of the day indoors. Maybe we should go outside more often.

A recent article suggested a quarter of Americans typically spend all day inside. Increasingly, the health benefits we might enjoy from spending more time outside is a big story. Reduced stress and blood pressure, improved focus and mental health, and less inflammation and fatigue are just some of the benefits being claimed.

The Slow Home Podcast set its listeners a “challenge” to “try” to spend an hour a day outside. Clearly, some people are finding it hard to make time to head outdoors. I recently polled my Twitter followers and found over a third spend more than 18 hours a day indoors – and my readers tend to be in the more active and outdoorsy kind of demographic.

Going Outdoors Is A New Health Trend

Some new health trend is always grabbing our attention. Drink more water, eat more vegetables, practise mindfulness meditation, get a standing desk, sleep more… Now it’s spend time outdoors.

It’s easy to get cynical about this. But that’s not the answer and it kind of misses the point.

It’s far more interesting to ask ourselves, if the consequence of following this advice is attractive to us, what picture we would see?

Let’s assume it’s all true. What’s wrong with being a well-hydrated person who eats a balanced, sustainable diet, has a calm and focussed demeanour, is physically active yet well rested, and feels connected to nature and regularly breathes fresh air?

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

At worst, we’re a little deluded, but at least we’re doing things we agree with, things that help us feel better. At best, we’re making big, important improvements to the way we live. Where’s the downside?

What Counts as Being Outside?

The obvious question is what counts as being ‘outside’. It’s more than just a few minutes rushing through our daily commute.

Many of the studies cited are specifically about the benefits of being out in nature, like this study on reducing depression and obesity. So, walking along city streets might not count. Other studies highlight the benefits of sunlight or exercise, but a closer look reveals the studies aren’t at all specific about being outdoors. These are just benefits we associate with being outdoors.

But it does seem as though too much time indoors is not good for us, from a lack of sunlight affecting our vitamin D levels, messing the rhythms that regulate our sleep and bodily functions, and creating potential issues with our respiratory system to the increased possibility of anxiety and other mood disorders.

There is a pretty strong case for getting out more, at least out into the sun and fresh air and, whenever possible, out into nature as well.

Thinking about it raises a number of questions. What if we choose to walk to our local shops rather than take a car or taxi? What if we take our exercise outdoors instead of inside a gym? What if we play with our kids in a park rather than in the lounge room? What if we spend less time on devices and indoor entertainments? What if we intentionally look for opportunities to be outdoors when on holidays, searching for activities like hiking, skiing, cycling or horseback riding?

“Walking in nature provides such a mental respite, but so, too, can any number of relaxing activities so long as they provide similar “inherently fascinating stimuli” and freedom from directed concentration.
Cal Newport

The Indoor Life as a Marker of Screen Dependency

Ever tried to read the news on a smartphone while standing outside on a sunny day? It’s not easy. Sure, newer smartphones have better screens, but after a few minutes you’ll be craving some shade, maybe wanting to move indoors, just to give your eyes a chance to cope.

But you can sit outside and read a book for hours.

Part of what we need to overcome is our screen dependency and the cult of convenience. This is why I’m trying to build a post-digital way of life.

Creating More Outside Time in Our Lives

Of course, we can’t take everything outside. There are good reasons why our studios and other workplaces are indoors. But we can still find ways to go outside.

I love watching films. Choosing to walk to a local cinema adds at least 40 outdoor minutes to the day – and even more, if I grab a coffee after and sit in a local park to think about or discuss the movie, rather than rushing home to blast opinions out onto the inter-web.

All week long, there are similar choices to make, like taking meals outside rather than eating at the dining table, reading a book in a local park rather than on the couch, practising guitar in the courtyard rather than in the studio, or going for a bike ride rather than working out on a stationary bike in the gym.

Not all of this has to be intentional, exercise-y stuff. As I’ve written before, in terms of our creativity and state of mind, there are clear benefits to having non-intentional, or purposeless, outdoor time as well.

Whatever way you can spend more time outside, you will benefit. And it’s going to be fascinating to listen as more people relearn the joys of being outside and share their stories.

Dane Cobain 6 years ago

I’m honestly surprised that it’s just a quarter of Americans who spend all day inside. I know I’m unfortunately guilty of this too, but I think part of the reason is that I live in a built-up area and it’s also in a rough part of town. The only little bit of outside property that I have is a rear porch and that directly looks on to the main road and the street and so it’s not somewhere I can work and get comfortable in.

One of my main motivations to spend a lot of time indoors working at the moment is that it’ll help me to save up some cash for when we’re able to move to a little cottage in the countryside. Once I’m there, especially during the summertime, I’ll be able to take a laptop out into the garden and do some work from there if needed!

In the meantime, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to spend a little time outside each day, even if it’s just to clear up some of the rubbish and the weeds etc. that pop up around the house. It’s funny though, I do need to make a concentrated effort to go outside or it just doesn’t happen. That’s why we’re trying to find more things to do in the local area that give us an excuse just to walk around in the sunshine. We shouldn’t NEED an excuse, but I think it’s easy to just not go outside without one. Or to go out but to go somewhere inside and just walk around in the air conditioning, which takes away the point.

I’m really loving your posts at the moment, I’m trying to make a few changes to my own lifestyle to improve it and I’m getting some great pointers. Keep it up!

Agostina 6 years ago

To be honest, Im the first one to get cynical about this sort of thing, it’s like “Eureka! Breathing will make you live longer”. It’s things that were there already, we just stopped doing them, we are not discovering anything new. Like avocado, quinoa, and every new food trend, we take something thats been on Earth for thousands of years and turn it into a God of health for about one season then off to the next trend.

BUT, It is good to remind people of this. We forget to go outside, we forget to stop looking at a bright screen. My vitamin D levels dropped in Germany for obvious reasons, which made me depressed, naturally, so being in the sun now even if its for a short time its absolute bliss. Most of the times we go outside because we go to the kiddy pool we put in the garden or to walk to the woods for a 420 smoke or my bf wants to have a cigarette and then we head back inside, where the entertainment on screen is, which sometimes depresses me, its this screen routine with outside breaks and I wish we would make more of an outside routine with inside breaks. A lot of times we go back in because of a chilly wind after the pool, a lot of times its just because.

fernando 6 years ago

Agostina – yes, I struggle to overcome the cynicism on some health-food stories I read, as avocados, quinoa, maqui, were all such everyday parts of my parent’s and grandparent’s food world, but now they’ve been “discovered” they’ve somehow become magical, rather than just “ethnic.”

Thank you for sharing your story as this is so often the way it goes for us. I know it’s like that for me in the rainy season, here in Tokyo and before that in Singapore, when the weather makes it very hard to enjoy being outside, even undercover. But, the big issue is always having the “entertainment” be indoors.

fernando 6 years ago

Dane – thank you. It’s very hard when we get to the point there we “need” a reason to be outside and of course, for many kinds of creatives, especially those who work from home, it can become such a habit to be indoors by default.

Agostina 6 years ago

Yeah, exactly, either “ethnic” or “exotic” like now coconut oil is THE thing and my mum has always used olive or almond oil for her skin and hair…

It’s funny because I think we went outside more during the winter when it was snowing, to use the sled or just walk or go for wood for the fire, it also has to do with my partner’s allergies, I guess, right now its awful for him outside. And living now in the countryside, the outdoors is always there, even inside I get to see so much outside that you dont need to go to feel you are there, but I still wish I had less time inside.

Maria 6 years ago

Talking about screens, my mobile phone stopped turning on in the winter. I still havent replaced it and I wont till late August. I feel a bit diconnected from friends and family not having whatsapp, but they can find me on fb (even if most ppl stopped using it regularly). Thing is, I know im still online on my computer a lot, but I dont miss having a smartphone, I feel so much better without it.

Robin 6 years ago

There are days I used to spend more than the 18 hours indoors. It affected my productivity and health to some extent. Getting out of the house seemed like a chore that I just didn’t want to do.

Seeing the effects forced me to make the effort everyday to go out, breathe in and just take a moment to appreciate my surrounding. I also make a point to work away from home and interact with nature. My only difficulty now is staying away from the screen. I hope to change that soon. I will agree that going outside does help..

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