"Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee," says Dr. Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, "but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature." He is the lead author of a series of studies that the Journal of Environmental Psychology just published in this June 2010 issue.
Instead of coffee, I restore my energy by going out for a hike. In fact, one of the most popular parts of my website is my blog of photo essays, "Fitness and Photography for Fun." Certainly, physical activity makes us feel better. Staying fit is indeed one of the four components those of us with diabetes have to focus on to keep our blood glucose levels down in the normal range (the other three components are diet, reducing stress and inflammation, and usually taking oral medication or insulin).
Over the years I have written many articles extolling the benefits of exercise. Some of those articles say how much better I feel after going out for a hike.
These studies have teased out the effects of being out in nature alone from the feel-good effects that we get from physical activity and from the socializing that we often get at the same time. Dr. Ryan and his co-authors were able to separate out the effects of nature alone. To do so they conducted five separate experiments with 537 of the usual suspects — college students.
What they found was so clear, Dr. Ryan says, that "being outside in nature for just 20 minutes in a day was enough to significantly boost vitality levels." The Journal of Environmental Psychology article defines vitality as having physical and mental energy giving us a sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy.
When we have a greater sense of vitality we not only have more energy to do the things that we want to do but were are also more resilient to physical illnesses. "One of the pathways to health may be to spend more time in natural settings," he says.
I'm not knocking physical activity. Most of us who have diabetes need to get up and out a lot more. If you aren't getting out yet, this beautiful late spring weather is a great time to start. I'm saying that getting our physical activity outdoors in nature gives us two for the price of one.