The greatness of outdoors: six ways to put a spring in your step this winter
Evidence is mounting that spending time outside will improve your energy, your mood and your mental health
Can you structure your day to get some fresh air? Photograph: Niklas Halle’nniklas/AFP/Getty Images
How much time have you spent outdoors today? As winter bites, we move from central heating to air conditioning and back again. We avoid the outdoors, dashing from car to office, school to shopping centre in an effort to keep cosy and warm. Many of us are living our lives on stale air. It’s no wonder winter gets a bad name.
We complain in the winter about being lethargic, weary, demotivated and somewhat depressed. We suffer colds and flus and crave rich comfort foods. We spend evenings on the couch blaming the dark nights for our lack of enthusiasm.
It will all be better in the spring, we say, but why wait until the spring to cheer yourself up? Embrace what these days have to offer us.
The power of fresh air
Studies in Britain, Scandinavia and the US consistently find that people exercising outdoors display higher vitality, energy, enthusiasm and self-esteem than when they perform the equivalent exercise indoors. In virtually all of the studies, they also show signs of lower fatigue, tension and depression after an outdoor activity.
Make time to get outside
Make the effort to take 30 minutes outside every day. You don’t need to be dressed in sporting gear to gain these benefits. All you do need to do is get outside. Sneak it in on work time if you can.
Even short periods of outdoor exercise have a positive impact on physical energy and mental wellbeing. Think about the people you know who walk or cycle to work. Why are they always more cheery than everyone else when they arrive into the office?
Boost your creativity
How much fresh air have your children had this week? With increasing homework and indoor after-school activities, distractions of computer games and TV, it’s easy for time outdoors to be last on the long list of priorities.
Dark evenings are not as inviting as summer sunsets. It is important to consider safety and have common sense as to where you walk or run in the dark. In some areas it’s just not practical.
If it’s not possible for you to be outdoors in the dark, how can you structure your day to get some fresh air?
The outdoor meeting
We have to suggest them and make the time for them. Walk to a different coffee shop down the road for your morning break. Aim to take time out from your desk for five minutes outside when you can. It’s ironic that the smokers in your office are probably outside getting more fresh air than those who stay at their desks.
A gym on your doorstep
When we are outside, our bodies tend to breathe more efficiently and our minds can relax. There are fewer distractions and we are more focused on what we are doing than if we were exercising indoors.
Dress for the occasion
Make this easy by wearing a series of light layers that you can take off and tie around your waist. When exercising in the dark, reflective gear is vital wherever you live, and is cheaply available everywhere.
Watch out for leaves and potholes and take the usual precautions you would on any walk or run.
Head-torches give you an affordable, hands-free way of lighting your path. (We have seen them selling for half-nothing in €2 shops and Dealz.)
Don’t waste the winter living on stale air. Treat yourself to some fresh air therapy and a nice cosy hat and gloves set to help you get out the door. It could be the best investment you make this winter.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie and coaches runners and walkers and offers outdoors fitness classes in the fresh air all year round. To sign up to any of the Get Running courses designed by Mary, see irishtimes. com/getrunning