Most of my childhood was spent outside.
I grew up on the same farm where my dad grew up. My grandparents still live less than a mile down the road, and my sister and I could ride our beat-up bikes through the field between our homes to go swimming in the summer, ride the tractor or four-wheeler during the fall and spring and use the sewing machine in winter.
The entirety of the farm was our backyard, and we made sure we used it. We ran through the cotton playing soldier with our cousins, played “crack the egg” on our trampoline, roller skated every day we could after school and kicked the soccer ball back and forth to each other until the sun went down.
We had a TV, and eventually a computer, but we would have rather been playing in the dirt outside or turning the bottoms of our feet black as we flipped barefoot on the trampoline.
My sister and I were very much “outside kids” in the way you’d refer to an outside dog. That’s where we belonged, and we were happiest roaming the farm without a care in the world.
[Outside is] where we belonged, and we were happiest roaming the farm without a care in the world.
Though it would have undoubtedly been easier to stay home, our mom and dad made sure to show us the places they loved. Every summer they crammed the miniature VCR player onto the console of the car and drove us to the lake so we could spend the hot Texas months on the water the way my dad had his entire life.
In the winter, they took us to the mountains. We learned to ski, make snow ice cream and build snowmen. It didn’t matter if it was over 100 degrees or the temperature topped out in the single digits. We would rather be outside than anywhere else.
We would rather be outside than anywhere else.
Fast forward to college, and between school and work, I was rarely outside other than my long walks from the parking garage to the buildings where I had class. On top of that, I suddenly found myself in a tropical climate where the sun would often only come out for a few days each month, even in the summer. I was used to dry weather and sunny days, not long, rainy afternoons that kept me indoors studying instead of out enjoying nature.
I was living in the city for the first time in my life, and I was sad, anxious and out of sorts. I missed playing soccer in the backyard with my sister and going on family walks as the sun went down and skipping class to fly kites with my best friends behind the school. My days were consumed by sitting in classrooms, sitting inside at work and barely making it home by dark so I could sit inside and do homework or study.
On the first morning of the New Year, my family and I took our dogs on a walk. The day dawned clear, cold and windy, and I found myself wondering how long it had been since I had taken such a long walk outside. Somehow, between graduating high school four years before and graduating college in 2019, I had forgotten how much I need to be outdoors enjoying nature. I lost sight of the fact that I come from sunset walks, afternoon bike rides and long days under the sun.
I come from sunset walks, afternoon bike rides and long days under the sun.
Being outside for even half an hour makes me think more clearly. The fog from sitting in front of a computer screen for 10 hours a day working or watching too much “Chopped” in the evenings disappears when I am outdoors. My brain is able to turn off and mellow out in a way it will never be able to in front of a TV or cellphone.
I am less stressed and tense about things that come up at work, finances or my health. My body relaxes, my mood improves, and my anxiety lessens. As someone whose job requires me to sit for long periods of time, I like to get outside not only for sunlight but also to get moving even lightly. While I don’t have the hours of extra daylight I had as a child, I take what I do have and enjoy it as much as I can.
I sometimes wonder why I didn’t realize in college that a simple walk outside for even 30 minutes would have made me feel more like myself and function better. I probably would have been able to think more clearly while I was studying and felt less sad on the weekends if I had gotten outside more.
These days, I am learning again how impactful a little bit of movement outside for a little while each day can be if I simply take the time to invest in my mental (and physical) health.
It’s a new year. Get outside as the days get a little longer. Go on a walk, take a bike ride or spend some extra time on the weekend on an adventure. Maybe you’ll start to notice that you feel better, too.
Image via Tara Grant, Darling Issue No. 14