There’s a heavy silence which hangs around you in the early morning. The trees and grass are crisp with the morning dew. As you breathe deeply, you feel the cool air hit your lungs. Ah, the great outdoors.

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You have absolutely no idea what time it is.

Stretching, you walk over to the creek nearby to splash your face. There’s a honeyeater singing its morning song as you wash. Life is great.

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What is one super simple way to reduce your stress and improve your overall happiness?

Get outside

If you’re anything like I used to be, you probably spend a good chunk of your day sitting (or standing) at a desk typing and clicking away at a computer indoors. It’s a beautiful day outside and you’re stuck in a climate-controlled box while your boss tells you what a disappointment you were on the Anderson account and Jenny tells you over lunch how she’s started this new “Paleo diet” and is trying to cut out carbs.

I understand you might be a little grumpy. Hell, I’ve been there

I’m here to tell you about a way to deal with all this pent up energy without snapping and screaming at your boss or baking a bunch of “paleo-friendly” brownies for Jenny but sneaking some gluten into the mix.

It’s as simple as getting outside.

That doesn’t have to be a week-long trip in the outback of Australia, though. It can be as straightforward as waking up in the morning and walking to the local park before work.

As a bonus, this is a great way to wake yourself up without coffee. The chilly morning air will hit you in the face like a cold shower. Although I do like my coffee…

The benefits of being outdoors

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What you gain from being outside is incredible. For most of human history, we’ve spent our lives outdoors and it’s only recently we’ve started spending significant amounts of time away from this environment.

Here are some of the major benefits I’ve personally recognised from spending time outdoors.

  1. You feel relaxed and carefree. When you take the time to slow down and be outside, all life’s other problems seem to fade away. That proposal due tomorrow? Still important, but it’s not a worry right now. The sounds and sights of the environment calm and soothe the soul.
  2. You learn by being observant. By not having our latest Spotify mix or podcast in our ears, we can pay attention to what’s going on around us. We notice that all the trees around us are the same type but seem to be slightly different. They’re kinda like humans in that respect. Cut from the same cloth, but each is unique and interesting.
  3. You remember more. Spending some time outside is a bit like shaking an Etch A Sketch with your mind. You wipe away some of the clutter, making way for new information to come in, or important tidbits to be remembered among the chaos.
  4. You move. Getting out into the natural environment puts you in unexpected positions that your body might not be used to. These can be physically demanding moves such as climbing rocks and cliff faces, or even as simple as the rotations in your ankle as you walk over an uneven surface. It’s boosting your overall health and fitness.
  5. You have conversations. If you go out with other people, being in nature is a great way to connect with them. You’re not at a cafe or bar having a catch-up, searching for something to talk about so there won’t be silence in the air. You’re engaging in an activity. If something needs to be said, you’ll say it. If not, your relationship will grow in the silence, just by spending time together.

This is all fantastic. You probably already knew your health will benefit from spending time outside. The hard part is actually doing it.

I’m not saying it would be a good idea to go on a 30-day trek the next time you have annual leave. (In fact, I think that would be a very bad idea for someone without any training.)

A little outdoors can do you good

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You don’t need to go on that 30-day hike. To get the benefits, you don’t need to go far. Here are some easy ideas.

  1. Eat your lunch outside. Rather than taking your lunch back to your desk and checking Facebook or the latest SMH stories, pop it in a reusable container and get outside. Most business districts nowadays have green areas, with grass to lounge on. Make use of it. You can even go outdoors with a bunch of your coworkers and be social. All the benefits!
  2. Go for a 30-minute walk. At some point in the day get outside and do nothing but walk. You’re not walking with any particular purpose, only to enjoy what you come across. I find this to be a great way to explore whatever area I’m in, letting my senses guide me down certain paths or streets, not quite knowing where I’ll end up. If this is too much for you, make it 5 minutes. Surely you have 5 minutes to spare in your schedule. As you grow to enjoy it and see the benefits you can perhaps increase the amount of time you spend.
  3. Get some plants for your home or workspace. A little indoor plant sitting on your desk as you work can improve your mood massively. I say this from personal experience and science says so too. They’re pretty cheap nowadays, require minimal maintenance, and there are heaps of companies popping up which specialise in this kind of thing.

That’s not enough. I want to do more

If you’re getting a dose of the outdoors, loving it and want to do more, there is much more you can do to continue. Here are a few ideas.

  1. Join a hiking Meetup group. Meetup is a free service you can access to hear about like-minded people gathering near you. Create a quick profile and you can search “hiking” to find groups near you. They’ll usually organise all the logistics of the hike, so you just show up and enjoy the day out – often for free!
  2. Organise your own hike. This can be as detailed or complex as you’d like. From one-day trips to multi-week events. There are heaps of resources available online to help plan your trips. For those living in Sydney, Wildwalks is a great reference.
  3. Go camping with some friends. You know that long weekend coming up? Get some friends together and go camping. Throw some gear in the car and drive to a campground with some friends for a fun and relaxed weekend. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife website has some great info and their customer support line is super helpful if you get confused or want to speak to a real person.
  4. Sign up for an outdoor course. If you really want to learn some physical and practical skills to get you in touch with your wildness or inner Bear Grylls, have a look online. You can learn abseiling, navigation skills, survival skills, bush tucker, medicine, kayaking and many more things over a weekend.
  5. Take an outdoor guided tour. If you’re interested in the history of the land or in native plants and animals, take a guided tour out in nature. Here in Australia, many of these are run by Aboriginal people of the local area where you’ll get a great cultural and spiritual perspective on the land. Some local councils are also running these events with bird watching, plant identification and other things. Call your local council to find out if they’re doing it.
Bonus outdoor activity: Organise a scavenger hunt
One of my favourite annual events as a kid was a scavenger hunt the whole family would engage in over Christmas.

Every year, my whole family on Mum’s side (about 16 of us) would gather for two weeks over Christmas in a holiday house on the South Coast of NSW. One of the rituals (one of many cherished rituals) we engaged in was a scavenger hunt through the bush directly behind the house.

In the morning, my Grandad would spend a few hours out in the bush setting down items and leaving us clues in the form of broken branches, signposts and chalk marks on trees, rocks and the ground.

We’d then be given a list of things we needed to do or get and partner up with another member of the family. Off we went! For hours we’d be exploring the bush, scratching our noodles trying to figure out the next clue or the next place to be. At times it was frustrating, but that feeling of success figuring out the clue was well worth it. The whole process gave me a great appreciation for the outdoors.

A scavenger hunt takes a lot more planning than simply organising a hike, but the rewards are well worth it. You can make the hunt themed and even throw in your own references and “easter eggs” that only people from your family or group will understand.

The outdoors are waiting for you

You’ve got some ideas now, so there’s no excuse not to get outside.

What are some things you like doing outdoors that I haven’t mentioned? What’s your biggest reason for going outside? Leave a comment below or drop me an email.

Luke.

P.S: It’s World Oceans Day today, reminding us to preserve and protect our oceans. I didn’t mention it specifically in the article, but oceans are, of course, part of our enjoyment of the outdoors. Without healthy oceans, we can’t enjoy the outdoors! Check out the website and have a think about your relation to the oceans today. I don’t do a lot in this space, but I do donate to Sea Shepherd, a marine conservation organisation that does some great work. Plus they’re hella-cool.

P.P.S: Just writing about scavenger hunts and reliving my past experiences has inspired me to suggest the idea with my friends and family. Maybe I can organise an epic yearly one!


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