The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the benefits and value of nature. Here are expert tips to maximize and appreciate our time outdoors.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have come to better appreciate nature. Whether it’s taking neighborhood strolls, exploring open spaces in our communities, or tending to a backyard garden, being outdoors in nature has sustained many of us during these difficult times.
Scientific research shows that being outside in nature has a positive impact on both mind and body. Time spent outdoors can decrease depression, reduce stress, and improve mental health overall. There are important health benefits for children as well.
“Children and teens truly need outdoor time every day to promote overall health. It is especially critical now that so many kids are inside and online for a huge part of the day,” said Allison Collins, MD, a general pediatrician and a board-certified lifestyle medicine practitioner at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara in California.
“Just getting kids, and even adults, outside — whether it be a park, playground, beach, or grassy field — naturally encourages physical activity. Exercise and reduced sedentary time are critically important to help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers.”
This year as we celebrate Earth Day — a global day of recognition designed to help people appreciate and take care of the environment — let’s recognize nature for the vital role it plays in our lives.
Allison Collins, MD
“Just getting kids, and even adults, outside — whether it be a park, playground, beach, or grassy field — naturally encourages physical activity.”
Paying close attention to the environment around us is one of the best ways to connect to nature. Feel the breeze on your skin in the early morning and listen for the sounds of birds and insects. Look at the natural light in the sky and the clouds around you. Engage all your senses as you smell the flowers bloom in spring. As you bite into an apple, imagine how the sun and earth cooperated to produce the apple tree.
During the pandemic, we can safely spend time outdoors with loved ones — as long as we’re staying 6 feet apart from others and wearing a well-fitting mask. Reconnect with friends and family with an outdoor picnic or a distanced backyard gathering. In-person interactions can help us connect and nourish our relationships with others and improve our social and mental well-being.
Get outdoors with children. If children feel connected to the natural world, they will grow to become better stewards for the environment. You can turn a family walk into a nature scavenger hunt to collect seeds or identify bugs. Let kids lead an adventurous hike and bring a sketchbook to draw the natural landmarks on your trail — and be prepared with plenty of water and other hiking essentials. Remember, you don’t always have to scale a mountain to appreciate nature. For people who can’t get outside, Sue Heikkinen, a registered dietitian with Kaiser Permanente in Colorado, recommends planting a windowsill herb garden with a child: “You will watch your plants grow, and you can enjoy cooking together with the herbs you’ve grown.”
Many people view Earth Day as a day of service. You can help the environment by picking up trash in your community, organizing a local park cleanup, or planting trees. You can also donate your time to organizations that support the environment. Also, remember to take actions to reduce your carbon footprint such as reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s efforts to protect the environment and the health of communities, as well as our achievement in 2020 of becoming carbon neutral.