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Two people walking in the snow with a small dog

Getting outside is a wonderful thing to do any time of the year. The health benefits of spending time outdoors have been well documented and validated over the last four decades. For example, spending time in nature can improve your psychological wellbeing, lower your stress, and reduce your blood pressure. Although science shows all the positive ways being outside can benefit us, we also know that Americans spend 93% of their lives indoors. We challenge you to change this statistic and make plans to get outside this winter!

If you are looking for unique opportunities and ideas of what you can do outside during the colder months, consider these activities:

  • Go tubing, skiing, sledding, ice skating, and snowshoeing when there is snow on the ground. Of course, building snow forts and snowmen are also classic winter activities.
  • Find a safe place to have an outdoor fire. Invite friends and family over, bundle up, and sing or tell stories. Be sure to follow outdoor fire safety tips.
  • Watch the stars, planets, and moon during the dark winter months. Clear, cold nights are perfect for watching the night sky. Check out What’s Up: Skywatching Tips from NASA, an educational website full of great tips and resources.
  • Invite the birds into your yard. Providing bird seed and a heated water bath is sure to attract feather friends. If you enjoy birds and birdwatching, consider signing up for Project Feeder Watch and/or Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count.
  • Read a book about winter to the children in your life and then re-create the story in real life. To get ideas, check out The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats or Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.
  • Explore seasonal and holiday-themed opportunities. Many communities have light shows, ice rinks, and outdoor activities for you to enjoy during this time of the year. Check with your area parks, museums, zoos, and nature centers for events.

Before heading out, remember to follow these winter weather safety tips:

  • Monitor the weather and plan ahead.
  • Wear layers.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Protect your head, hands, and feet.
  • Wear sunglasses, apply sunscreen, and use a lip balm with sunscreen.

If you or someone you love has limited mobility or a difficult time getting outside, consider bringing nature closer to you and if possible, bring nature indoors. For example, if it snows, bring some snow inside in a plastic tub. You can also purchase a houseplant that has a seasonal scent, like rosemary or pine. A window bird feeder is another option. Each of these ideas is a way to enjoy the benefits of nature without leaving your house.

Every day is an opportunity to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer, even during these colder and darker months. Make it a priority to wonder and wander outdoors this winter!

Written by: Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu  

Reviewed by: Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Licking County, gallup.1@osu.edu

Sources:

Gallup, S. (2021, May 19). Falling in Love with Nature. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/05/19/falling-in-love-with-nature

Harvard Health Publishing (2018, December 1). The Wonders of Winter Workouts.
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-wonders-of-winter-workouts

Kelpies, N. E., Nelson, W. C., Ott, W. R., Robinson, J. P., Tsang, A. M., Switzer, P., Behar, J. V., Hern, S. C., & Engelmann, W. H. (2001). The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): a resource for assessing exposure to environmental pollutants. Journal of exposure analysis and environmental epidemiology, 11(3), 231–252. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.jea.7500165

Stanton, L. M. (2021, April 19). Get Out! Celebrate Nature on Earth Day and Every Day. https://livehealthyosu.com/2021/04/19/get-out-celebrate-nature-on-earth-day-and-every-day

Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

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A great way to celebrate Earth Day is spending time outside and connecting with nature. Time in nature offers an easy and inexpensive way to increase your happiness, improve your mood, and feel part of something larger than yourself. Studies have shown that getting outside can:

  • Improve your memory and attention: After just an hour interacting with nature, memory performance and attention spans improved by 20%. In workplaces designed with nature in mind, employees are more productive and take less sick time.
  • Heal: Patients in hospital rooms with a view of trees had shorter stays and less need for pain medications compared to patients with views of brick.
  • Improve psychological well-being: Joggers who exercised in a natural green setting felt less anxious, angry, or depressed than people who jogged in an urban setting.
Child running outside under flowering trees

We also know from research that children who spend time outdoors are more likely to develop positive environmental attitudes and behaviors as adults. One of the best ways you can take care of our planet is to encourage children and youth to get outside.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has created an expansive list of activities to encourage children to spend more time outdoors. Here are just a few ideas you can try with your children or grandchildren:

  1. Maintain a birdbath, grow native plants, or build a bat house. For more ideas, read National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard.
  2. Collect lightning bugs at dusk and release them at dawn.
  3. Keep a terrarium or aquarium and learn about the plants and animals you observe.
  4. Be a cloud spotter; build a backyard weather station. A young person just needs a view of the sky. Check out The Kid’s Book of Weather Forecasting for more ideas.
  5. Encourage a “green hour” every day. Give kids a daily green hour that includes time outside, unstructured play, and interaction with the natural world.
  6. Collect stones. Even the youngest children love gathering rocks, shells, and fossils. Read Rock and Fossil Hunter by Ben Morgan together.
  7. Learn about and raise butterflies. Consider purchasing a monarch rearing kit and growing milkweed so you can hatch and release your own butterflies.
  8. Hang up a bird feeder and watch birds. Have them close their eyes and just listen. For more tips, check out National Audubon Society’s Easy Ways to Get Kids Birding and Bird Sleuth Investigator from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

No matter what you do while you are outdoors, remember that simply going outside is the most important step. Despite all the positive benefits of being outdoors, according to the EPA, Americans spend approximately 90% of their time indoors. On this Earth Day, make a pledge to get out more and bring some young people with you. Nurturing the next generation of our planet’s caretakers is a perfect way to celebrate!

References:

Bratman, G. N., Daily, G. C., Levy, B. J., & Gross, J. J. (2015). The benefits of nature experience: Improved affect and cognition. Landscape and Urban Planning, 138, 41-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Taylor, A. & Kuo, M. (2006). Is contact with nature important for healthy child development? state of the evidence. Children and their Environments: Learning, Using and Designing Spaces. 124-140.
https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511521232.009

Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224 (4647), 420–421. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.6143402

Wells, N. M. & Lekies, K. S., (2006). Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism. Children, Youth and Environments, 16 (1), 41663.

Written by: Laura M. Stanton, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Warren County, stanton.60.osu.edu.

Reviewed by: Shari Gallup, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Licking County, gallup.1@osu.edu.

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Two children in hiking clothes next to a sign that says Alum Cave Trail. Trees are in the background.

The fall is a great time to get outdoors for a day hike. Day hiking is a low impact physical activity, and offers the countless health benefits of being outdoors. Being in nature, or even seeing scenes in nature, reduces anxiety, stress, improves moods and cognitive functioning. In addition to feeling better emotionally, nature contributes to physical health including reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones!

Getting Ready for a Day Hike

Hiking is a fairly, low-cost activity. Needed supplies for a half day or day hike include:

  • A comfortable pair of hiking boots or shoes
  • a backpack
  • water bottle
  • food or snacks
  • sunscreen, use even on a cloudy day to avoid burns
  • bug-spray

Dress in layers of clothing so you can add or remove as you get sweaty or take breaks. Non-cotton shirts that fit tight and wick up sweat should be the bottom layer. This will keep you dry and your temperature regulated. Changes in elevation may cause temperature changes as well.  Check the weather before you go out but be prepared for anything. Rain gear such as ponchos are inexpensive and light.

Food and Water

Nutrition is important to keep energy levels up. Consider the five major food groups when planning meals and snacks: fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. A mixture of protein and carbohydrates before, during and after the hike will keep your blood glucose steady and will help you replenish energy stores at the end of the hike. Raisins and Peanuts (GORP) is the perfect snack as it blends protein and carbohydrate. Energy bars are also helpful but can be expensive. For hikes lasting for 2 hours or more think about food safety. Keep foods that you would normally refrigerate (meats, dairy, cooked grains, leftovers, cut fruits and vegetables) cool at 40 degrees or below in an insulated pack with ice.

Hydration is critical. Be sure to drink fluid (preferably water) on a regular bases even if you aren’t thirsty. As a general rule, bring about 2 cups of fluids for every hour of hiking, and drink about 4 cups prior to hiking to prevent cramping.

Other precautions

Be wary of poisonous plants such as poison ivy and ticks. Stay on the trail as much as possible to avoid both of these problems.  Consider wearing treated clothing or bug spray on clothes, especially under the waist to avoid ticks. Tick borne illnesses are becoming more common. If possible bring a map of the trail or use GPS. It’s always a good idea to bring a friend, especially if you are a beginner hiker.

For more in-depth information on hiking, sign up for OSU Extension’s three part webinar series: Hiking and Health at go.osu.edu/hikinghealth. The webinar series is created by Family and Consumer Sciences and Ag & Natural Resources specialists who have a passion for the great outdoors. This series will aim to provide education and insight into how to properly prepare to spend time in the woods. This series will cover a variety of topics related to hiking and health, such as:

  • Food safety on the trail
  • Proper hydration techniques
  • Tick prevention
  • Plant identification
  • Proper gear selection
  • And more!

When: Tuesday October 8th, 15th, and 22nd from 11:30am – 12:30pm!

Where: Zoom! Once you register at go.osu.edu/hikinghealth, you’ll be sent Zoom links to participate in each webinar.

Author: Dan Remley, PhD, Associate Professor and Field Specialist, Food, Nutrition and Wellness, OSU Extension

Reviewer:  Pat Brinkman, Associate Professor and Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator, OSU Extension

Sources:

University of Minnesota. 2016. How does Nature Impact our Wellbeing? https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019. 5 Tips for Camping and Hiking. https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

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