It's nearly 2 p.m. on a Friday. I'm stationed at my desk at work, and I've been staring at the computer screen for what seems like ages. The weekend is nearly here - I can already hear the birds singing as I work my way through an early spring cleaning of my yard on Saturday morning.
As the minutes drag by, the ability for me to focus weakens. (Now I smell fresh grass clippings that are seeping through the window; I feel the cool breeze it accompanies.) I open my top desk drawer to grab a file I'll need to reference for my next project when I see it - that dark chocolate candy bar I bought last week to save me from moments like these.
When I'm about to grab that candy bar and rip it open in desperation, I suddenly remember the healthier lifestyle I pledged to maintain months ago - with the intention of actually maintaining it this time.
During the past few months, I did make changes for the better. I started jogging. I put more focus on nutrition. And I learned to better appreciate the natural world outdoors and its countless benefits on my health.
I've realized that being healthy doesn't necessarily involve diets, calorie counting or even rigorous amounts of exercise. Healthy lifestyles may instead depend on your environment and how you take advantage of your surroundings.
I recommend you take a short walk around your office building or parking lot during your lunch break to breathe in some fresh air and clear your mind. Plan a hike with your family this weekend - pack a picnic and make it a day trip. Plant some flowers - try something new in your landscape. Or even settle under a tree in your backyard with a good book - your mind needs exercise, too.
The Davey Tree Expert Company's Manager of Education and Training R.J. Laverne says there is an amazing range of human health and safety benefits made possible by simply having access to nature.
Scientists have discovered people who spend more time outdoors than others benefit from increased immune functions. Numerous other studies have shown that park visits and forest hikes may increase white blood cells, which naturally kill off diseases and other maladies in the body.
Sometimes it's difficult to muster up the energy to exercise, even though you want to see results in weight loss, toning, etc. But Laverne says nature can act as a quick form of "mental refreshment," which might rejuvenate your mood and encourage more physical activity. "It's not hard to imagine that getting outside and exercising can provide great rewards for our physical well-being," Laverne says.
The "relaxation response" that trees in urban landscapes evoke in people contributes to physical and mental health, according to some studies. The locations that wooded areas and green spaces provide, however, also offer spaces for social events, community interaction and individual physical activity, such as walking, jogging or biking.
Let's return to the problem with staying focused in the office on Fridays. Laverne explains that researchers have discovered it takes a good amount of effort to concentrate on our tasks: effort that involves "directed attention." Similar to the fatigue your muscles experience after a strenuous workout, your brain also becomes tired when you concentrate on a task for an extended period. But researchers have also discovered that our directed attention can be refreshed by taking breaks in places that help our thoughts wander without the energy needed to concentrate - places that include access to nature like parks, nature trails or even a view of a tree outside your window.
As you begin a new lifestyle or revive the healthy habits you adopted as a New Year's resolution months ago, remember how Mother Nature can help you out. Use her beauty, warmth and fresh air - not the cocoa beans in that chocolate bar - as your "thinspiration" to get fit and stay active.