Back to nature

Cosy it may be indoors, but even at this time of year, a dose of outdoors is powerful medicine.

I was recently re-reading the November 2014 edition of Mindfood magazine.

It's a magazine I enjoy reading and going back to, as I often find wee gems I'd not noticed or just skim read first time around.

One article in particular caught my attention as it echoed a tweet I'd made earlier in the week from an old Zen saying on meditation: ''you should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day, unless you're busy - then you should sit for an hour''.

The article I'd found was on the healing power of Mother Nature for our general health and mental wellbeing.

It tied in beautifully with the intent of the Zen saying I'd stumbled across.

The article and the tweet got me thinking, a dangerous thing some would say!

Like many, I spend most of my working week indoors and then running around and playing catching up on chores during the weekend.

So what effect does being out and about in the fresh air have on me?

I'd never stopped to think about why I enjoy being in the garden, love walking along the beach, love riding my bike.

I know the physical tiredness from these is a good feeling, but on reflection I realised I felt better mentally too, more relaxed.

I thought about last Christmas.

I was lucky enough to spend four or five days ''glamping'' at the family crib.

Most of the days were spent in bare feet, on the beach, swimming, walking, foraging in the forest, playing golf and sitting in a deck chair watching the breakers roll in and listening to the birds.

It was incredibly restorative, more so than just having a few days off work at home.

Our lives are predominantly more indoor and sedentary than our predecessors.

Combine that with our burgeoning use of screens, tablets, computers and smart phones and it's easy to see that we've disconnected from nature and have things a bit out of whack.

Balancing it back up with some technology-free, outside time, in the sun makes a lot of sense.

We know that we need about 20 minutes of sun exposure a day to absorb vitamin D (outside of the high UV times of the day, especially in summer) but what else does getting some outside time do for us?

Research spanning 10 years is showing that exposure to nature can help elevate mood, lower stress, anxiety and depression levels, boost your immune system, reduce anger, increase self-esteem and improve your physical health, among many other benefits.

One study found hospitalised patients with a view of trees and parks got better and went home more quickly than those who looked out at concrete and brick!So how can we make it happen?

It doesn't need to be a major event, we don't all need to spend weeks tramping the great walks of New Zealand (but what a fabulous thing that would be to do!) or spend money we don't have on expensive equipment.

It can be as simple as a walk in the park, pottering about your garden, a walk along the beach, taking the dog for a run, parking further away from work or the shops and walking a little further, trying out some of the tracks and parks around you, visiting the local botanical garden.

It can be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes - it really doesn't matter.

We're incredibly lucky in New Zealand to be so close to green spaces, tracks, beaches, skifields, lakes and rivers and it's easy to take it for granted. Get outside, connect with nature, look around you, feel the breeze on your face.

• Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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Top tips for rebooting

• Just get out there and do something! Figure out what do you enjoy doing.

• Keep it as simple as you want, it doesn't have to be a major undertaking.

• Look for reasons to make it work. Avoid the ''it's too hard'' ''I don't have time'' traps.

• Make it fun, meet with a friend and enjoy some good company too.

• Ditch the phone, tablet and computer for a block of time each weekend: give your brain and eyes a break!

• Being out in nature has the power to balance the body, mind and soul. The old saying ''take time to smell the roses'' makes a lot of sense!


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