Get Outside

 Heed, for example, the siren song of the Kishwaukee River, enticing you to Get Outside, Get Healthy.

Heed, for example, the siren song of the Kishwaukee River, enticing you to Get Outside, Get Healthy.

How much time do you spend outdoors? Is it enough? How much time should we spend outdoors?? Would spending more time outdoors improve your health?!

You’ve probably seen statistics that suggest that Americans today spend 90 percent of their time indoors or otherwise in artificial environments (like driving a car). On the one hand, that number strikes me as appalling; on the other hand, it shouldn’t surprise me. After all, most folks are employed in indoor work and live in houses or apartments, driving door-to-door between work, home, and indoor errands.

I prefer natural, outdoor environments:  I thrive outside.

Of course, I am fortunate to be able to work in a field that places me in nature on a routine basis. I celebrate the open sky above, the panoramic vistas of wide prairies, the rich scent of wetlands, and the sheltering closeness of the shady forest. To feel the breeze, and gulp fresh air; to delight equally in snowfall, sunshine, starlight and rain—these are experiences that can feed the spirit and help sustain an appreciation of the awesome beauty of living on earth.

And yes, those disturbing statistics are out there. Most recently, on May 19, the New York Post published a story that reported the findings of an inquiry conducted by Velux, a global architectural firm. The survey, which sampled some 16,000 respondents in 14 countries, found that Canadians, Americans, and Brits were among the folks most likely to stay indoors (around 25 percent of the population spending 20-to-24 hours per day indoors). Italians and Czechs occupied the other end of the spectrum, with 57 percent of respondents spending fewer than 14 hours per day indoors.

The famous “90 percent of time spent indoors” statistic appears to derive from a more rigorous study, The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants (Klepeis et al., 2001, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory). Results of the study suggest that, on average, Americans spend 87 percent of their time indoors, plus an additional six percent of their time in an enclosed vehicle. The survey was funded by U.S. EPA and (presumably) like the Velux study was intended to quantify the degree of exposure to indoor pollutants.

Such surveys may focus on the indoor environment because the researchers were looking to justify efforts to address indoor air quality and other (indoor) environmental exposures. The implication (stated, in fact, by one of the authors) is that human beings have become “an indoor species.”

Yet this is a relatively recent development in human history. A few (human) generations ago, most people spent a good deal more time outdoors. And some of the respiratory ailments that are so common today were less prevalent. And how about all those allergies that folks are facing today?

Human health and wellness may be enhanced by spending more time outdoors—especially given the fact that most outdoor time includes a higher degree of exercise than most indoor time. A number of studies published during the past ten years document the benefits of spending time in nature. Exposure to natural environments has a positive correlation to enhanced wellbeing, and with greater exposure to nature, there is a greater positive effect. I find it noteworthy that this is not so much about healing illness as it is improving wellness and being less likely to fall ill in the first place.

Severson Dells Nature Center is working with the Forest Preserves of Winnebago County to promote such wellbeing. Just this past week, on May 19, we launched the 2018 Get Outside, Get Healthy campaign, a series of events—free to the public—that support wellness through outdoor experience. Many of these events will take place at Severson Dells, listed on the calendar of events here on this website. Additional details are available through the Forest Preserves’ website.

So please, get out of the house, get out of your car:  Get Outside and Get Healthy!