Massachusetts General Hospital has a program where its doctors write prescriptions for outdoor activity as a way to improve health (Outdoor Rx). This is one of those “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” moments that has actually materialized. “Wouldn’t it be nice” if doctors handed out prescriptions for walking the dog, hiking, or playing catch rather than pills? Who would have thought.
One of the collaborators referred to our nationwide “pandemic of inactivity–” an apt phrase. This “pandemic” was one of the problems I sought to address when I came up with the Green for 15 challenge a few years ago. I noticed that time spent outdoors has been incrementally edged out of our lives to the point where we basically exist in a loop of “car to building.”
I figured if people could commit to a small goal—15 minutes a day, not necessarily at one time—they would notice a difference. That difference might have a ripple effect, and then increase in unforeseen ways.
I know it did with me. I now walk for 60 minutes a day (not all at one time). When I came up with the Green for 15 challenge, I was barely outside at all (except for the “car to building” route). My exercise was at the gym or dojo. I did yoga indoors. I let my dog out in the fenced-in yard. And I drove my kids to school.
I started small by walking my daughter home from school. Over time, I took more frequent walks—taking my dog out a few times a day, walking to CVS rather than driving, dragging my reluctant kids on a walk around the neighborhood, or having walking cell phone conversations. This carried over when I transitioned to clinical work (very sedentary). During cancellations I would take a few laps around the block (15 minutes), and walk for 20 minutes or so at lunch. It adds up–that was 35 minutes of outdoor activity right there.
I know that I am lucky in that my neighborhood is safe and pedestrian-friendly. Many neighborhoods in Westchester County are, but some are not. Still, with determination and creativity there are ways to increase outdoor time. The first goal is to increase daily time outdoors. Start with 15 minutes. See where that goes. Take an extra lap around the block on your next coffee run. Park in the farthest spot at the supermarket (and actually walk the cart back to the “cart return” section).
And then mindfully enjoy the walk—notice your breathing, footsteps, sunshine, trees. Connect with the seasons, and feel gratitude for your life. The mindfulness part is very important, as it magnifies the effect of even a small amount of time spent outdoors. Outdoor activity benefits the mind and the body by burning calories and calming our minds.
On weekends, many families spend their time at malls or stores. How about this next weekend finding any one of Westchester’s beautiful hiking trails and enjoying nature? Who knows, pretty soon the doctor might be ordering it.