Happy Friday, League of Wildness!
Last week during the Facebook Live meeting for our Outdoor Workout Challenge, Wildman Dan offered a list of questions about how our health is impacted by the intersection of modern living and our wild outdoor ancestry. Three of them stood out to me as questions that deserved more depth, so let's dive into them!
Question 1: How many modern ailments would be solved by spending more time outside? What specifically would be the most dramatic solution?
This is such an important question. I think we benefit for any time we spend outdoors. But to a degree, what we do with that time matters. I love to plop into my hammock and spend a summer afternoon reading a good book. But most of the time if I am outside, I am on the move.
My daily steps between winter and summer usually double. On average in the non-winter I get 12,000 steps a day simply because I am outdoors for several hours. In the winter, I have to work to get 10,000 steps and often come in closer to 7,000-8,000. I get outside every day, it’s just harder to spend ample time outdoors. Numerous studies have been done on the benefits of getting more walking time in. 10,000 steps is an average of about 4 miles for most people and is considered the gold standard for reducing risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Currently, the average American gets in only 4,000-5,000 steps a day.
As to what the most dramatic solution might be, I think it’s simply to spend as much time as possible outdoors every day. I think the goal that the “1,000 Hours Outside” family sets is excellent! They aim for about 3 hours outside every day. I can easily spend 3 hours a day just in my yard, doing chores and playing with our dog (AKA The Friendly Beast). It doesn't have to be complicated.
I do wonder what benefits I would see if I spent the majority of my time outdoors int he summer. I already spend 6-8 hours outdoors most days from May-October. What if it was more like 22 hours? What benefits would I see? Is there a point where the benefits level off? If there is, I haven’t reached it yet. I find I feel better every day the more time I spend outdoors. It makes me wonder how far reaching the impacts are of our indoor lives. Not just because of the lack of time spent outdoors, but the many hours of exposure to furniture, carpet, flooring, paint, harsh cleaners and so on.
As long as you are being cautious of the sun exposure, heat exposure, and hydration levels, there are few risks to spending as much time as you can outdoors. All of the research so far suggests that the benefits are numerous. The more time in the wild, the better!
Question 2: Why do we have to do so much to counteract the human zoo we've created? Like why do we need books, apps, websites, coaches, etc to tell us to do things that would be more or less 'natural' if we didn't live in a man-made environment?
I think that because we’ve lost that connection in so many ways, we find time outdoors uncomfortable, and maybe even a little scary. Much of that is just due to a lack of familiarity, the habits we've established, and not trusting ourselves to know what to do because we have been out of practice for so long.
When we started to live in permanent homes that were specifically designed to protect us and separate us from nature, I think that is where we went a bit sideways. When you add to that the modern work life for most people it’s kind of a death-knell to our connection to the wild.
We are so comfortable in our homes that being outside feels unnatural. Any time we get a bit warm, a bit chilled, a bit rained on, we get uncomfortable and so we avoid spending time outside of our climate-controlled areas. We don't know anything about the wildlife where we live so we are afraid of being attacked. We are so mentally drained from our jobs that thinking about something else we need to do is exhausting. It's easier just to arrive at our 72º home and fall into the recliner than it is to change clothes and go outside. Yet, the risks of so much time spent comfortably indoors are piling up ever day. Along with that, that benefits of being outdoors are likewise becoming more obvious.
I think we are naturally drawn to the wild. There is a reason that people are curious about paleo diets and primal workouts. They speak to a deeper, more feral version of ourselves. I don’t believe I’m the only one with this affinity. It’s why, when everything closed down for covid, that everyone started going outdoors again. People rediscovered their connection to the outdoors and ever since, permits for camping, hiking, climbing and other outdoor activities have been selling out very quickly. We rediscovered our connection to the wild. We behave as if we’ve removed ourselves from the circle of life, but we really haven’t. We’ve just changed how it looks and when we are forced to give up the massive distractions of modern life, we go back to our wild roots.
Yet when people feel drawn to wildness, they don’t always know where to start. We are often over-thinkers who believe we need a specific plan for everything, and that we always need someone who is more experienced to teach us or mentor us. Personally, I have always enjoyed exploration and figuring things out for myself. I can read a book and learn 100 new facts but none of that will stick as much as what I’ve learned from packing too much for a backpacking trip or swamping a canoe in cold water. Sometimes, you just have to take the first step and do it, knowing you’ll make mistakes. Learning from challenges is what keeps pushing us outside of our comfort zones - and ultimately - leads to positive change.
Question 3: How does the idea that going outside is a somewhat profound solution to many modern ailments strike you? Can it really be that simple?
I think it can. We humans still tend to look at ourselves as superior beings on top of the food chain. That is what I was taught in school. But in reality, we are just naked animals. We might have shut ourselves behind walls and doors but we can’t escape the fact that we are subject to the laws of nature like everything else. We are born, we use resources, we reproduce, we die, we decay and become part of the nutrients that drive new birth. We are every bit a part of nature as anything else in the world, and when we get in touch with that, I think it provides answers to who we really are at deeper levels.
That we have removed ourselves from our place in the wild hasn’t done us, or the planet and everything on it, any favors. There is a palpable difference to when I go outside with the intention of connecting with the wild. I become part of the vast wild world. When we spend time in the outdoors, we aren’t just visiting. We belong there. And I think one of the biggest “crimes” we've committed against ourselves is that we have removed ourselves from the wild and believe we don’t belong there anymore. We tend to think nature is something apart from us, a place we visit rarely. But that’s not really how we’re supposed to be living. We’re supposed to be connected to the wild and we’re naturally drawn to it.
Ways to increase your time outdoors
The benefits of spending more time outdoors are many and it seems like it should be a simple action, however, our habits tend to have inertia and they can be hard to break or change. So how can you reap the benefits when you have an 8-5 job and so much to deal with every day?
🌲One of the best ways is to move indoors activities outside. We all know the joys of summer BBQs, but you can take your plate of food outside in the yard, out on the deck or balcony any time. One of our kids eats all his meals outdoors in the summer. Have some emails to send? Bring your laptop outside and sit in the grass. Maybe you are stuck on a “we are experiencing unusually long hold times” phone call – go for a walk while you wait it out.
💪Join one of our Outdoor Workout Challenges! I might be biased but I am pretty sure our challenge group is one of the best groups on the internet. They inspire me every day.
🚴♂️Use your commute and work breaks to get outside. Bring your lunch from home and enjoy it in the city park. Skip Starbucks and ride bike to work. Park a few blocks away and enjoy the walk rather than fighting for a closer parking spot.
🧘♀️ Slow down. So many of us are a in rush to get from point A to B in record time. Instead of looking at your feet and forging down the sidewalk like a linebacker, slow your pace and look at what is happening around you. There are birds, squirrels, caterpillars, interesting trees, flowers, and all sorts of things happening around you. Take a moment to notice and appreciate them.
☀️ We bring this up a lot, but it’s because it makes such a big difference: take the time to get outside for a few minutes first thing in the morning. Do your Squaffee or Squatea, perform a few sun salutations, do some mobility on the deck, or walk around the yard. This morning it’s snowing but I still spent 10 minutes outside before starting my day. Even when the sun isn’t shining, the fresh air is like a fuel injector that primes all my systems for the day.
☔️ Get outside even if the weather isn’t perfect. The phrase “weather-allowing” should be reserved for dangerous weather or conditions. Getting rained or snowed on won’t hurt you. Many times I catch myself looking out the window longing to be outside, falling into a habitual thought pattern that because it’s 45º and raining I can’t go out. Throw on a cheap rain jacket and get out there! You won’t regret it.
🏃♂️ Instead of family movie or game night, make it a family walk, hike, or bike ride.
🍅 Plant something! Start a garden, even if it’s just a couple of small containers on the balcony. Watching something start from a seed and turn into food on your plate is just as fun as it was when you did it in science class as a kid.
🏆 Set a goal for how much time you want to spend outdoors. Having a goal can push you to find creative ways to meet it.
🥾 Make sure your outdoor gear is easily accessible. If you have to dig for the right clothes, it makes it harder to take the first step. Every season I change up our entry way closet with some options so I can just grab what I need. In the winter, my coat, boots, spikes, hats, and mittens are right there. In the spring, my rain jacket, in the fall my orange hunting vest.
We spend too much time indoors. Many people struggle to spend even one hour a day outside, which is pretty incredible considering that not so long ago, home is where we came to eat dinner and sleep. We didn’t evolve to spend 10 hours at a computer desk, 6 hours on a recliner, and 8 hours in bed. Since we have to sleep, the only answer is to use the other 16 hours to create opportunities to increase our time outdoors.
“We need the tonic of wildness...We can never have enough of nature.” - Henry David Thoreau
What do you think? How would you answer these questions? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Make it a wild weekend!