Inspiration from Outside the Box

David Suzuki can’t tell me what to do. His foundation is promoting its third annual “30×30 Challenge” this month. The challenge is a call to action for individuals to spend 30 minutes in nature for 30 days. Whether It’s a local park, a nature trail, a beach, or a backyard, the point is to get outdoors. Participants have the option of completing pre- and post-challenge questionnaires on their physical health and mental well-being.

Many people routinely take walks to clear their mind, mull over a problem, or cool down after an argument. Now research shows that regularly getting out into a natural setting also lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and boosts immunity. According to this Science Daily article, people who spend as little as 15 minutes a day in a natural setting experienced increased vitality and well-being.

What does this mean for students? Think of a nature break as an important investment in your education. Hiking Research says it best in their blog post, “Five Ways You Can Prepare Your Brain for Success in 2014“, in which they quote studies that show spending time in nature can improve your ability to focus, enhance your creativity, increase your capacity for learning, improve your memory, and, perhaps most importantly, reduce stress. What other single thing can contribute so much to student success?

Do I need David Suzuki to remind me to go outside? I enjoy nature. I like the green of growing things, the stillness broken only by birdcalls and rustling leaves, and the earthy scents of woodland trails. I like the sun’s warmth on my face, a cool breeze on my neck, and spongy soil underneath my feet.

There are more benefits to nature than those feeding the senses, however. Being out in nature often prompts physical activity that doesn’t feel like real exercise. Many of us who work behind desks all day have to look for opportunities to get active. The gym is one solution but can be expensive and uninspiring. As runner Elliot Wagland says in this Huffington Post article, “It’s more enjoyable running through the seasons than alongside a sweaty person in the gym facing a brick wall.” I haven’t been in a gym for seven years but I can still recall the pungent bouquet of armpits and socks. Those aren’t the scents of nature I prefer.

North Americans are spending more and more time indoors. As comfortable as our indoor spaces are, they are still manufactured environments. How can we feed our creative spirit and curiosity if we’re cooped up in a box? Our imagination is constrained by the four walls of our voluntary prison. By freeing ourselves from our man-made boxes, we free ourselves from inspiration slumps and creativity blocks.

Some view David Suzuki as the saviour of Planet Earth, others view him as an alarmist tree-hugger. But as a student I can’t ignore his recent pronouncement that “memory performance and attention span improve by 20% after spending an hour in nature.”

I’m going to make the effort, and make the time, to get out from behind my desk and get outside every day in May, but not because David Suzuki said so. Some of my best inspirations and creative moments have occurred when I’m immersed in nature. And that genuinely is thinking outside the box.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario