If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
Many people would say "sleep" or "read" or "play with the kids". But what if you combined some of those activities into one by spending that time outside? As I have mentioned in another Power of Slow entry, there are many health benefits to spending time in the Great Outdoors. Study after study has proven you can decrease the likelihood of heart disease, lower your blood pressure and increase your stamina by taking a moment to stroll through the park, woods or nearby green space.
This summer I took a five-week sabbatical to really live the slow with the kids. Like the 281.3 million other annual National Park visitors, we spent more time outside than inside. Even when it got really hot (Death Valley, California is the hottest place on Earth for a reason!), we tried to spend at least thirty minutes outside. In fact, our favorite place to stay was at the Ponderosa Ranch & Resort in a Chuckwagon just outside Zion National Park. The cool night temperatures and the crickets lulled us to sleep under the tarplan. It was magic and the best night's sleep we got the whole month! Why? Because no air conditioning rattled us awake at 3 a.m. The air was pure, the entertainment simple.
All the parks we visited had extensive recycling and educational programs. The well-designed signage informed and entertained. The kids found the wildlife amazing; the adults found the free shuttle buses a blessing!
When our daughter tried to befriend a nearby squirrel by attempting to pet it, we nearly jumped out of our boots and realized our kids needed to learn more about safety while being outside. We pointed to signs that admonished park visitors not to feed the wildlife. As tame as they may seem, they aren't.
One of the greatest benefits of being outside were the vistas. Instead of telling the kids we were going for a hike, we'd tell them we were taking pictures. It seemed to work because before they knew it, they had walked two miles up and down rocky paths.
Sometimes Nature is a mindset.
While Hurricane Irene spanked the East Coast, we battled the 100°F+ heat in the Southwest. And when we learned that an earthquake happened just miles from my mom's Virginia home where we had been staying, we knew Mother Nature can show her wrath, too.
Death Valley, California was the penultimate destination on our circle tour of the Southwest. The temperature gauge read 127°F. I felt unsafe there, as if I would suffocate if we stayed another minute. But knowing a few safety guidelines such as always travel with water, wear sunscreen and avoid the midday heat, helped usher us out of the National Park alive.
We arrived home to Munich, Germany, to the lush, soft air of late summer. We were grateful for its welcoming lilt.
Nature is grand and possesses incredible healing prowess. Spend some time outdoors each day. It will do you, and your heart, a lot of good!