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(Image: Lisette Wolter-McKinley / Seattle Refined)

This year, take the 1,000 Hours Outside Challenge

Now that a majority of people are no longer commuting to work each day, what are you doing with those extra hours? Sleeping? Working out? Taking up a new hobby? What about doing something as simple as stepping foot outside?

This year my family and I made a decision to participate in the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge. If you do the math, this works out to be roughly three hours per day or twenty hours per week.

As a mother to young children I am acutely aware of the benefits to being outside during the day - less messes to clean up in my home, worn out children and easier bedtime routines. However, you don't need to have children to benefit from the transformative powers of nature. Have you ever found yourself feeling calmer, more relaxed or more focused after spending time outside? If you have that is because countless studies have proven being outside has many benefits to both your mental and physical heath. There appears to be a strong correlation between time spent in nature and reduced negative emotions. This includes things like anxiety, depression and insomnia. Stress is relieved within minutes of being outside and time spent in green spaces significantly reduces cortisol, which is a stress hormone. Nature is found to boost both endorphin levels and dopamine production which promotes happiness which is something we could all use a bit more of during this pandemic!

I know COVID has so profoundly and unabashedly taken away much from our lives, but one thing this pandemic has given to my family is encouragement to go back to the basics. Rather than actively seek outside entertainment (sports, movies, museums, attractions, malls etc. ) we as family have gone on more hikes, walks and bike rides to keep our family sane this past year. When everything has either been closed or felt off limits the outdoors have been the one constant in our lives which has remained open.

With all our big trips put on hold for the foreseeable future we have made it a point to spend our time off in nature. For example, last year, we were able to take a glorious mid-week camping trip to Mount Rainier, spend countless days going to parks or the beach and went for a long weekend to the North Cascades and San Juan Islands. That being said, a trip whose main objective to be outside can easily rack up 8-10 hours outside each day and get you well on your way to your 1,000 hours goal.

Getting outdoors needn't be a lot of work. You don't have to like camping, hiking or own expensive gear to participate in the restorative benefits of nature. Start out slow and add a little more week by week. Start by picking up an umbrella or putting on a waterproof jacket and take a walk around your neighborhood. What are all the things you have never noticed before? Once you have mastered a mile radius of your home consider replacing one destination you typically drive to with walking. After you have become an expert of your neighborhood try going carless for one day a month, then once a week. Where can you get by walking or what can you do without?

When I first saw the 1,000 Hours Outside Challenge I thought to myself how my family probably already spends that much time outdoors, but if I sit down and track it most of the time probably occurs between the months of May and October. This year I am challenging myself to break out of my comfort zone and go outside when it feels inconvenient or daunting or downright exhausting. What I have learned over the years is doing something as simple as taking a walk or going for a run not only makes me happier, but makes me feel more connected to the people and places around me. And right now with so much of the collective world hurting I can benefit from every ounce of happiness I can muster.

A few tips:

  • Dress in layers. Especially in Seattle the weather can go from rain, to sun to wind and back to rain. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.
  • Take breaks during the day. I often see my neighbor power walking around the block. You might look silly to others, but studies have shown being outside improves creative thinking and can restore capacity for concentration and attention.
  • Clean up messes or go on adventures. This has become my mantra as a mother. When you are home your children can often quickly jump from one creative endeavor to another, but how about instead letting them jump from one rock or stick to another.
  • Invest in what matters. Moving makes your body happy and mind happy. Treat yourself to those cute yoga pants, comfortable sports bra or fancy apple watch.
  • Make movement a priority. Schedule in time with nature same as you would your dentist appointment or therapy session. Build it into your schedule and make it happen.
  • Track your progress. It is easy to think you spend very little time outside, but once you start tracking it you might see you spend more or less than you originally thought. Adjust accordingly.
  • Add ten minutes. Whenever you are outside, stay outside ten minutes more than you planned on. Call a friend, jog around the block, watch a bird. Before long your time outdoors will increase and the health benefits will have you coming back for more.