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News, Views and Tips on Psychological Health and Well-Being
Go outside: it's good for you
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By Nathan W Gates
Nathan W. Gates will be discussing topics related to health, wellness and psychological well-being. Nathan is a licensed clinical professional counselor at Spoon River Counseling & ...
Living Well

Nathan W. Gates will be discussing topics related to health, wellness and psychological well-being. Nathan is a licensed clinical professional counselor at Spoon River Counseling & Wellness in Canton.  He also teaches, speaks, writes and, when time allows, fly fishes for any species that will chase a fly.  The fishing is often neglected, as he also has two young children with his wife, Emily.


Learn more about his counseling practice here: Spoon River Counseling & Wellness


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By Nathan Gates
March 8, 2013 12:01 a.m.

With all the snow over the last couple of weeks, it's tempting to hole up in the house and only go out if you absolutely must. But there is a good reason to try to get outside, even in inclement weather: your health. Well, aside from the icy sidewalks. Those are probably just bad for health, period.
This article in Outside magazine details the state of research into the effects of being outside on various aspects of both mental and physical health. This is a growing area of research, having moved from the esoteric contemplation of Thoreau’s Walden to the research lab. At this point, all indications are that spending time in natural areas is good for stress management, blood pressure, immune functioning and more.
Interestingly, it doesn't even matter if we enjoy ourselves, the Outside article said.
"It turns out, that even when we don’t enjoy spending time in nature, like during lousy winter conditions, we benefit from it just the same. At least that’s what Toronto’s Berman found when research subjects took walks in an arboretum on a blustery winter day. The walkers didn’t really enjoy themselves, but they still performed much better on tests measuring short-term memory and attention."
The bumper sticker "a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work" comes to mind. We derive benefits from the activity that are not actually linked with our enjoyment of it. We really aren’t doing ourselves any favors when we stay inside to watch TV, even if it makes us more comfortable. Of course, it is fortunate that most of the time, spending time outdoors is very enjoyable. A quiet walk in the woods, a fishing outing on the lake or river, a long sit in a deer blind; all of these things offer benefits to mind and body.
This seems intuitive to me, but it is great to see an increasing body of research backing it up. A few years ago I read Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv. In it, he coined a term “Nature-deficit disorder," describing the prevalence of low attention, easily-distracted kids who also happen to spend more time in front of screens than playing outside. At the time, his was the most comprehensive compilation of research data on the subject that had yet been assembled. This body of work has now grown and received increasing national and international attention.
In the Outside article, one researcher used a phrase to describe the “attention resetting” quality of time spent outdoors: “soft fascination." This refers to the directed but open attention placed on one’s surroundings when in a state of keen awareness while outside. I find this concept to be really delightful and resonant. I could easily describe time I’ve spent fly fishing for trout, sitting in wait for a Whitetail deer or tracking a bobcat’s snowy footprints as “soft-fascination.” It is a vigorously engaged state of mind, open to all manner of sensory information. You do not realize how loud you and your day-to-day world are until you completely stop while outside, and suddenly a falling leaf becomes an auditory event.
Modern lives are so busy, hectic and over-directed that we often don’t feel as though we have time to spend simply enjoying natural places. There is a cost to all that hectic business, however, and it may behoove us sometimes to stop and smell the roses. Or the pine needles.

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