Make Time for Two Hours Outside

Were you outdoors for a walk this weekend? The research is piling up showing that spending time outside in natural surroundings is associated with lower levels of stress hormones, less anxiety, less depression and even improved cognitive ability.

A children’s hospital in the US has a question on their discharge questionnaire: Does the child have access to outdoors and green spaces? If not, they are offered to take part in a nature program. Clinical trials show that this program increases the children’s health and decreases the parents’ stress levels.

Spending two hours per week walking in nature gives a significant improvement in health and subjective well-being. If you like numbers, a study shows that the effect increases with more time outside, reaching the maximum at 5 hours outdoors per week. That half an hour on workdays and Saturday, and one two-hour walk on Sunday. For everyone without a significant mobility impairment, that is completely achievable.

Make sure you get your two hours outside every week. That gives you the energy to work on anything else you need to change in your life.

Make Food

During lockdown, many people have taken up baking and cooking. If you are one of them, you have probably experienced that you feel better during and after preparing food. Research shows  that there are many ways that baking and cooking affects our mood positively, and the ability to cook is associated with greater mental well-being and lower levels of depression.

If you are not yet cooking or baking yourself, give it a try. It doesn’t take long and being able to create food for yourself and others is a very deep human need.

When lockdown is over, don’t stop.

Build a Health Habit

A lot of people have a health goal among their New Year’s resolutions. Goals focus your attention, but health goals tend to be “I should” goals set with your mind instead of your heart. Ideally, you would work on finding your true “why” and set a heart goal that will be much easier to achieve. But the next best thing is to build a habit instead. If you can create a habit of exercising, or a habit of eating home-cooked food instead of takeaway, your health will improve.

In Denmark where I live, we have costal climate. That means it doesn’t really get cold in winter, and snow is a rare occurrence. But we just had snow and we’ll have freezing temperatures this weekend. I’ll be taking some long walks this weekend. What will you do to support your new health habit this weekend?

Your Health Needs Daylight

We’re down to a little over 7 hours of sunlight here in Denmark, so it’s dark when you leave for school or work, and dark when you return. Depression and anxiety is worse in the dark part of the year so it is important to get as much daylight as possible.

One positive effect of lockdown and working from home is that you are free to schedule your day. Take a long break at mid-day and go for a walk, a jog, or just sit outside with a warm beverage. You can make up for this time later in the afternoon. Most work doesn’t require daylight, but your health does.

Keep the Routine

English has the wonderful term “turkey trot.” It means a run, often short and with a focus on having fun instead of running fast, on the weekend after Thanksgiving. My friends in the UK tell me that they do their turkey trot after Christmas.

Even though organized races are canceled this year, you can still do your own “turkey trot”. Find your running shoes and go to a park or other nature near you and jog or walk for a mile. If you can’t jog the entire distance, run a little and walk a little.

As it becomes darker and colder, it is important that you keep up some kind of exercise routine. Even though your gym is closed and you’re working from home, you can still lace up your running shoes. Your body and your mind need the activity.

Heal with your Mind

You might have heard about the placebo effect: Some people get well even though they are given a dummy pill that consists simply of starch and sugar.

Unfortunately, the positive effect has an evil twin: The nocebo effect. This causes people to experience symptoms even if given an inactive pill. They are so convinced they are given medicine with serious side-effects that a sugar pill will also cause symptoms.

Both effects show the fantastic power of our minds. We can think ourselves well, and we can think ourselves sick. Be careful to tell your mind you are well or getting better. It helps.

St. Martin’s Day

Today is St. Martin’s Day. We don’t celebrate the day here in Denmark, but we do celebrate St. Martin’s Eve with roasted duck. I love cooking and prepared the usual feast for my family.

Even if you don’t love cooking as I do, it’s a good idea to be able to cook something. Cooking is not hard, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment and it’s a great activity to do with a friend or partner. And cooking your meals yourself is much healthier than eating take-away.