Pa Knows Best: Get Outside

A sad fact of “modern” life is that most of us don’t spend much time outside.  Some days, the extent of our exposure to the elements is the walk to and from our car on the way to work and back.

Yet, talk of the weather is that great common ground for elevator rides, and idle chit-chat in the break room at work where people express sadness when it’s rainy or joy when the sun is shining.  We check the weather before we dress, have apps dedicated to it, have an entire network channel devoted to it, and local weather updates every ten minutes on the network morning shows.  What an irony that our culture is nearly obsessed with the weather when we barely even experience it.

Pa paid attention to the weather for different reasons, foremost amongst them being that he actually spent time outside.  There’s a good chance that Pa was outside for part of every day no matter what his job may have been.  My 91-year-old pa still bundles up and goes outside for something every day,  sometimes its to split or stack some wood or pick up debris in the yard, and sometimes it’s just to get the paper.

There are lots of studies about the benefits of being outdoors.  Whether it was a short time on a weeknight after work, or for longer projects on the weekends, Pa got outside practically every day and you should too.  Finding the time to get outside is easier than you think.

Here are some easy ways to spend a little more time outside each day.

Morning walk.  This is a great way to wake up and get your blood moving so you can meet the day more energized.  If you are an early riser, spend half an hour walking around your neighborhood and enjoying the sites and sounds of the world waking up.

Morning coffee or tea.  If you don’t have an extra half an hour in your morning routine, try spending five or ten minutes just sitting quietly on your porch with your coffee or tea.  Leave your phone inside and use this time to listen to the birds, or watch your neighbors walk their dogs, or enjoy the changing colors of the morning sky.

Brunch or coffee.  The weekends are a great time to head to the coffee shop or cafe for brunch.  Instead of crowding into the dining room, ask to sit outside.  It’s great for people watching or enjoying conversation while getting a little sky on your skin.

Lunch break.  How easy it is to spend your lunch break huddled over your phone or gulping down something from the drive-thru.  But alas, the time spent with your window down to order food and exchange money for a sack of lunch doesn’t really cut it as “outdoor” time.  Instead, see if there is a park near your office and spend half an hour sitting on a bench enjoying the breeze.  Or take a 15-minute walk along the path to stretch out those muscles that have been sitting all day.  If a park isn’t close, head out to the parking lot for a couple of laps.  Even a few minutes soaking up some vitamin D and loosening your muscles can make the whole afternoon at your desk seem easier.

Wind down after work.  Take a few minutes right after work to sit on your porch with a glass of beer or wine or water and just let the workday fade away. Chat with your girl about the day or make plans for the weekend.

Same ole, same ole.  On our busy weekdays, we tend to think the best way to relax is to plop on the couch and play online or watch TV.  Consider spending even 10-15 minutes outside instead.  You can even take your computer outside with you!  Look at that.  You can do the same activities you always do while getting a bit of fresh air.

Chores.  Pa probably spent time outside gardening or tending to the lawn.  Even in the suburbs many of us have a little patch of grass to call our own.  Take some time to plant flowers by the sidewalk, or rake your leaves instead of blowing them into the street, or sweep your porch and sidewalk.  The quiet repetitious nature of manual chores can be almost meditative and some of our best thinking can be done while our hands are busy but our minds are free.

Walk.  Take an evening stroll around the neighborhood or on a nearby greenway or through the pasture.  An after-dinner walk is an especially good way to wind the evening down in the warmer months.

Workout.  So many people run straight from their climate-controlled office to their climate-controlled gym in order to work up a sweat.  But you can skip the gym and do a bodyweight workout or play a pickup game of basketball or go on a strenuous hike or bike ride and get all the benefits of working your muscles with the added bonus of being outside.

Sports.  This time I mean the kind you watch.  Summer is the perfect time to head to your local minor legal ballpark and spend the evening cheering on your team.  You may not even realize that you are outside since you are busy watching the game.

Play.  Once we reach adulthood, many of us give up on the idea of playing.  But a half an hour shooting hoops or playing catch can be a real highlight of an evening and make you feel the same joy as it did when you were a kid.  Or take advantage of your neighborhood pool for a half an hour of the joyous relaxation of floating around without a care in the world.

Cook.  In the summer months, cooking outside is a double bonus of being fun and keeping the house from getting too warm.  Fire up the grill and spend a pleasant hour on the deck cooking dinner and relaxing.  If you have a fire pit, don’t just save it for weekends.  Take an evening off from streaming Netflix and sit around the fire making S’mores instead.

Sleep.  We tend to make a big deal about sleeping outside, reserving it only for planned camping trips.  But if you have a backyard, a night out under the stars is literally as easy as walking out your back door.  You can set up a tent or just make a little nest for yourself and your honey with blankets and pillows.

Sit.  My grandparents would spend time every evening sitting on their patio.  No radio, no books.  They would sit and talk quietly or sit in silence.  The entertainment was provided by the cows shuffling down the lane for their evening drink and hummingbirds zooming between the 3-4 feeders.  We once counted 23 hummingbirds at one time.  This quiet time was a gentle transition from the hard work of the day into the restfulness of the evening.

It is so easy in today’s world to spend all of our time inside. We go to work, eat in restaurants, work out in gyms, and relax by watching TV.  But we are missing a crucial element in our lives by not spending any time outside.  Pa’s daily life included time outside each day, whether he was doing chores or working in the yard.  Today, there are a ton of easy options for getting outside each day, if only for a few minutes.  You might be surprised at how spending just a little time under the sky each day can make your life feel better.  Take a page from Pa’s book and get outside each day.