As the mercury plummets and the icy accents of winter make their presence well and truly felt, it’s tempting to shut the door on the outside world and curl up on the couch in front of a cosy fire.
Ride it out until spring and then re-enter civilisation when the frost thaws, kind of thing.
We get it. We feel it too.
But what if you flipped that kind of thinking on its head? What if you took a new perspective and made a deliberate choice to view this chilly time of year through a different lens?
You might feel a little cold at times, yeah. But you might also unearth a winter wonderland that you’ve had your back turned on for all these years.
And better still, you might discover the endless health and wellbeing benefits to come from spending time in the great outdoors during winter.
Over the years, scientific research has continued to show that the more often we get out of the house - even if it’s just to explore our own backyards - the happier and healthier we become.
It’s not always easy to summon the energy to layer up in our winter woolies and brave the big chill. But as the following benefits show, spending time outdoors will always be worth your while.
1. Reduce stress & improve your mood
The dark and dreary months of winter are well known for dampening our mood. After weeks of waking to frost covered lawns and braving sub-zero temperatures to wash the ice from your car windscreen, it’s easy to view the grey skies and bitterly cold air with a touch of despair.
But research shows that time spent in nature is highly effective at reducing stress and boosting your mood. And the changing landscape can also leave you with a feeling of awe if you let it.
Try to find a way to focus on the beauty of your natural surroundings, and tap into the powerful feelings of wonderment that lie in your own backyard. Gaze across your frosty-covered lawns onto the wintry landscape that stretches beyond. Observe the fallen leaves and patterns of ice on the grass and footpaths in the mornings. Inhale the crisp, fresh, foggy air. Study the cloud patterns. Inspect the ice crystals forming on blades of grass, tips of leaves and tree branches. And lift your head skywards to catch the soft, rainy drizzle on your face.
2. Fresh Air is good for us
We all know that outdoor air is generally far less polluted than the air we breathe inside. And that is most certainly the case if you seek out environments with lots of greenery and plant life.
Even if you’ve worked to make your home an organic haven with toxic-free cleaning products, cooking agents and essential oils, the reality is that it will still be full of indoor air pollution from electronics, kitchen appliances and naturally occuring gases.
So be sure to step outside your back door every day, suck in that fresh, icy-cold air and give your lungs and immune system an instant boost.
3. Strengthen mental health & boost energy
When the days shorten and you feel trapped inside, bathing in a little sunlight and nature outdoors can work wonders.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real condition in which your body produces depression-like symptoms as a result of decreased exposure to sunlight.
Exposing yourself to the sun’s rays is one of the best remedies for the winter blues as it helps your body produce much-needed vitamin D. Sunlight has also been shown to give the immune system a healthy boost, and aid with the release of the feel-good chemical, serotonin.
Exercise and sunlight together can get your blood flowing, providing organs with much needed nutrients to give us energy, and fight off the winter sads. A gentle walk in nature, or a bike ride through the streets of town for as little as 10-15 minutes during the day is all it takes.
4. Improve brain function
Spending time in natural settings, be it by the river, in the bush, or in your own beautiful backyard, has the power to improve your cognitive function. It’s been proven to replenish your ability to focus your attention, making it easier to switch off from negative thoughts and distractions that are not serving you. Spending time outdoors makes it easier to tune out from those frustrations at work or at home that are difficult to avoid, and to direct your attention to the things that actually matter.
So when you feel cabin fever taking hold this winter, try taking a walk in nature, carve out some time in the garden, or spend an evening with family around a backyard campfire, to really cleanse and clear your mind.
5. Reconnect with family
Getting out into the back yard with your children in the colder months is a wonderful way to reconnect as a family without the distractions of housework, tech and screen time. It’s also a powerful way to lay the foundation for healthy habits early in life.
Time in nature stimulates the imagination for us all. By spending time outdoors with your children you are doing more than filling their lungs with beautiful fresh air. You are giving them important opportunities to expand their creative thinking. In winter, things are darker, wetter and heavier, which provides different opportunities for problem solving, exploration and imagination.
Next time you're outdoors with the kids, try reimagining your own winter childhood memories of running through the morning drizzle, stomping in puddles, playing in the mud or exploring the garden by torchlight in the evenings.
6. Social connection
In the winter months, we often run the risk of feeling isolated, which can feed in to those sad feelings of melancholy.
So instead of hibernating from the world this winter, try stepping outside your front door each day, and opening yourself to the possibility of an encounter with your neighbours. These random gatherings out on the street or during a walk in your neighbourhood provide an opportunity for important human connection which also builds a healthy sense of community.
Winter is so full of amazing wonders if you open your eyes to them.
Next time you feel the prick of cold air on your skin, and turn to retreat to the warmth and comfort of your home, remind yourself of these benefits, and choose again. Embrace the temperature change and all that it brings. You’ll be surprised at just how energising and invigorating the cold weather can be.
Plus it won’t last forever.