For Christmas Stress Relief, Get Out!

Christmas is supposed to be a time for reflection and renewal, a heartwarming and rejuvenating holiday… At least in movies and commercials.

In reality, we’re all crazy hectic sprinting around shopping and wrapping and socializing. Or sitting around being depressed. Either way, finding time for physical activity is critical for our mental and physical health. For a double benefit, go outside. 

It’s true: research shows that exercise, any kind, lowers stress levels. Other research shows that being in nature, any kind, lowers stress levels. So exercising in nature gets you bonus stress relief!

From my new book, Healthy Habits for Your Heart, Chapter 4, Change Your Life: Foundational Habits: 

Habit #14: Walk in Nature

A substantial body of research shows that spending time in nature, or “green spaces,” is associated with significantly lower stress levels. In one recent study, more than one hundred participants spent about an hour in one of three spaces: a natural park with forest and fields, an urban park with benches and paths, or an indoor recreation center with a running track and exercise equipment. The natural park group was the only group with reported reduced stress and increased joy, as well as reduced stress hormone levels. Scientists have several theories to explain this phenomenon: one is that being in nature allows our brains to relax. We’re bombarded by technology and unnatural noises all day long. Being in nature may be a massive relief to our poor overstimulated neuronal pathways. Another is that being in nature triggers primitive relaxation pathways in our brain, based on how we evolved. Our ancestors needed to know when they could relax, and being in wide open spaces with access to water was relaxing because they could see that there were no predators and knew they would have water to drink. Maybe this is why we still feel a deep sense of satisfaction when we take in a beautiful view.

Tips to Make the Habit Stick

If you are able to spend time during your regular workday in a natural setting, make that a priority. Maybe you can walk through a park on the way to or from work or sit and have lunch under a tree. Even if it’s looking out an office window overlooking trees, grass, and maybe a body of water, that can provide benefit.

• If you have the option of being active in a natural setting, like walking in a forest, through a park, or along water, choose that option. It’s a double benefit: activity and green space!

I practice what I preach! Here are photos from my run this morning, a much-needed reprieve from being indoors drowning in wrapping paper. A reprieve interrupted by a phone call from harried Hubby, home solo and trying to manage the kids’ post-present-opening and pre-breakfast meltdown… But it was all okay, because of this beautiful view, and ducks. Who can be stressed when there are ducks? 

In all seriousness, if this time of year has you feeling tense, try to get outside for awhile. 

Merry Christmas! 






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