Science has caught up with something we all know--taking a brisk walk outdoors can lift our spirits, increase our energy and lift a blue mood. In Japan, they call it "forest therapy," and scientists noticed that spending time in nature can mean significant improvements in both mental and physical health.
And you don't have to travel to the west coast to see giant sequoias or to Savannah to see Banyan trees, you can rely on your own backyard, or even the view from your window. I had sliders put on three sides of my screened in porch, and the cats and I enjoy the view. I feel like we can enjoy nature 365 days a year this way.
There's something energizing about staring the day with a cup of coffee (and a blank computer screen), as I think about the next scene I'm going to write or the next plot point I need to develop.
We let the backyard go natural, it's too shady to really do anything else with it. It's still pretty and the cats find the woodland birds and critters entertaining as everyone scrambles to their feeding stations.
Recent studies have linked nature to symptom relief for health issues like heart disease, depression, anxiety, cancer and addictive problems. A walk in the woods has been shown to reduce "ruminating" (a sign of depression, when one broods endlessly about a dismal topic) and it increases attention, alertness and creativity.
A desert landscape can be just as inspiring as a woodland one. Here is a photo I took at the Marriott Desert Springs in Palm Desert. I participated in a "sunrise" walk every morning and enjoyed the palm trees, the mountains, the soft desert air.
A man-made lake (with ducks!) added a lovely water view that we enjoyed from the deck of the villa at the left.
Water views seem to be especially relaxing; here's a photo I took from the dock at the lake house.
There are so many benefits to spending time outside. It can lower your blood pressure, for example,and some studies show that visiting "greenspace" is vital for heart health. Some researchers believe that the lack of air pollution is one factor, but they also think that stress relief figures into the picture.
In any case, whether you spend time hiking in the forest, kayaking along a lake, admiring a desert view or strolling along the ocean, you're doing something good for yourself.
This is the view from the Ft. Lauderdale condo, one of my favorite places to unwind. One thing the scientists noted is that you need to be in a calm place without pollution to get the full benefit of walking outdoors. Even though I love New York, walking on a crowded Manhattan street just doesn't give you the same boost in mental and physical health.
So lace up your sneakers and hit the beach, the sand, or a desert trail!