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Shelly Barnes: Check out the benefits of exploring the world around us

Shelly Barnes • Jul 26, 2017 at 7:00 PM

In today’s busy world, we are pulled from meeting to meeting, stressed about answering our emails, text messages, browsing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and every other social media site. We run through fast food on our way to and from events, struggling to pay the bills, provide enjoyable experiences for our families and squeeze in a little personal time, as well.

As we get caught up in this, it can be easy to stay locked up inside a building. University of Minnesota researchers said, “being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and the production of stress hormones.” With all of these health benefits it is hard to imagine why we do not spend more time outdoors. There are some easy ways to bring the outdoors to us while we’re in the middle of our crazy lives: Open the windows in your work space or home and allow fresh air and the sounds of birds and nature to seep into your work environment. “Proximity to, views of, and daily exposure to natural settings increases children’s ability to focus and enhances cognitive abilities.”

The more we can connect with nature the easier we can focus on the task at hand. Take a 10-minute walk outside in the cooler/warmer parts of the day – depending on the season. In a study by the University of Illinois they found that locations with trees and green space around their buildings had people reporting “stronger feelings of unity with neighbors, being more concerned with helping and supporting each other and having stronger feelings of belonging” and in addition to those discoveries, they found there was reduced risk of street crime, lower levels of violence and aggression between domestic partners, and a better capacity to cope with life’s demands, especially the stresses of living in poverty. Decorating with some plants can help by reducing stress, anxiety and increase attention; they also work to reduce airborne pollutants. This can also help reduce the sick days you may have to take from work that decrease productivity.

If you also get a plant that smells good, it can assist with enhancing our cognition, mood, immune system and reduce stress and fatigue. Any moment we can take to just get into nature is going to help us feel better about life and ourselves. Living in Tennessee, we have a lot of nature and forests around us. New York government officials said “spending time around trees, especially in forests, can boost immune systems, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase focus, accelerate recovery from injury or illness, increase energy levels and improve sleep.”

Nature and our bodies respond well together – and if it can save us from being sick by helping our health improve and hopefully keeping us off of some of the drugs we often take to battle symptoms…getting out in nature is an easy course of action to take. The best part of nature is, we can go exploring alone or we can make it a group activity. All across Tennessee, there are state parks with little to no charge, recreational parks in our communities, and more just waiting to be discovered. Take a weekend and make an adventure of it! Have a special someone in your life – go on an outdoor date. Give back to nature and make memories by planting a tree with the ones you love. Picnic in the great outdoors. Pack a lunch and eat outside while you’re at work. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re looking for additional ideas – check out what events your local businesses and organizations may have going on. Take the first steps to being a healthier and happy individual – discover the benefits nature can give you.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state and provides equal opportunities in all programming and employment. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels. For more information on this or other family and consumer sciences related topics, contact Shelly Barnes, family and consumer sciences Extension agent for UT Extension in Wilson County. Barnes may be reached at sbarnes@utk.edu or 615-444-9584.

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