Nature is calling us to come outside.

Most of us are staying cooped up inside due to the colder weather and less daylight hours. But the key to combating the stress that we are experiencing is waiting right outside our doors. Nature. Mother Nature is calling us to come outside. And the cooler temperature does not have to discourage you from reaping the benefits.

Children and adults have an innate connection with nature. The fresh air and the changing seasons are energizing and uplifting. Besides developing happy individuals, there are multiple benefits to taking a step outside. The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of at least one hour of outdoor play for children every day. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes each week (or 30 minutes 5 days a week) of moderate to vigorous physical activity for adults. But is this enough motivation to get families outside especially during colder weather?

Health care professionals tell us physical activity can lower the risk of obesity, improve sleep, reduce levels of anxiety, improve concentration, improve eyesight, and these are just a handful of advantages of being active, outdoors. It is worth the time and effort to reconnect with nature.

There are many ways to engage in nature and the benefits outweigh the perceived risks involved. Here are some ideas that may work, and if not, then they might help to generate some ideas that would work for your family. What is important is that your family does not make any excuse not to take time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors year-round.

Since so many are working and learning from home, families can take short walks every day after lunch. Even 10-15 minutes of walking around the block or along a trail can provide a wealth of opportunities to recharge and to get in touch with nature. Remember to dress warmly. Soft fleece jackets can add a layer of warmth under a loose-fitting insulated coat. Pull pants over your leggings or even your jammies. Most pajamas are made of synthetic that keep you warm. Stay away from cotton clothing during cooler temperatures. Cotton is great for the warmer weather but will easily get damp from sweat leaving you with cold feet. Consider wearing nylon or merino wool socks which are soft and warm. And wear a loose-fitting shoe or hiking boot that will allow for room. Everyday sneakers can work if you loosen the laces. Leave the fancy shoes at home. Most are tight fitting and do not leave room for your toes to move around and keep warm. After a few short minutes of movement, your family will not notice the cooler temperature and may enjoy not having to deal with the bugs of summer.

If you do not live in a rural area, your family can find nature in amazing places even in the cracks of the sidewalks or abandoned lots. The National Association for the Education of Young Children stresses that you don’t have to live near a forest, dessert, lake, or ocean front to have a rewarding outdoor experience. Nature finds a way to grow a flower in the snow or secure a bird’s nest under unused stairs. Some of the most amazing birds’ nests can be found in the metropolitan cities atop the skyscrapers. You just need to take the time to look in unexpected places.

Taking a walk or hike with the family dog can be the perfect excuse for getting in touch with nature on a regular basis. There are important health benefits for your pet in addition to your family members. Along with humans, dogs are calmer and sleep better after spending time in the fresh air. Try walking down a different street or trail to provide variety and interest. The new scenery can be mentally stimulating and emotionally exciting for both your pet and family members. After a few walks along a tree-lined trail, your family and dog will be begging you for more adventures. Local state parks encourage families to visit and have excellent nature programs all year long. Just remember, according to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the public can access trails, lakes, roads, and parking for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking; however, facilities at state parks and forests in Pennsylvania may have limited facilities during the winter months. So, plan ahead!

Consider setting a family goal of venturing outside every day for 5-10 minutes at first. Gradually add more time each week and eventually, your family will be involved in quality physical and mental health practices. Put on a little sunscreen and enjoy the benefits of the great outdoors year-round.

Source: Penn State Extension –