With spring’s warmer weather, now is a great time to get outdoors and reconnect with the outside world. Recent research shows that connecting with nature is essential to our physical, psychological and social well-being. Senior citizens who live near green spaces tend to live longer, while those who interact with nature regularly are usually happier and feel more fulfilled.
“Spending time in nature connects us with the world we have evolved in,” says Jon Hayes, the Programs Coordinator at the High Park Nature Centre in Toronto. “We spend so much time on our screens, when we go sit outside and notice the world around us, it brings us back to something that we are missing.”
So how can you reap all of nature’s wonderful benefits? The first step is to engage with it.
“When you engage with something, you start to care about it, and then you want to extend your knowledge about it and from that knowledge, it will inform the decisions that you make,” says Hayes. “People are starting to realize this whole world around them that we often walk right on by, but once you have a little bit of knowledge, you start to notice things that you didn’t notice before and it really enriches your life.”
Here are five easy ways to reconnect with nature, so you too can enjoy an enriching outdoors experience.
Go for a walk
“I have never regretted going for a walk,” says Hayes. “I have worked at High Park for nine years and each time I go for a walk, I find something fascinating that I want to learn more about.” Not only will a walk outdoors introduce you to a variety of species and plants and wildflowers, but also going for a “walk in the park” has been proven to be an instant mood enhancer. So grab your sneakers and walk to your nearest park or green space. Your heart and head will thank you for it.
Study your backyard
Whether you live in suburbia or a rural area, chances are you have a ton of nature and wildlife right underneath your nose – all you have to do is pay attention. “It’s as simple as noticing the flowers and insects around you,” says Hayes. “If you look carefully, you can notice there are a lot of different insects in your own backyard.” Live in the city? Visit your local park. Noticing and being with something without trying to change or fix it can be extremely healing. Taking the time to fully explore something new, while also benefiting from nature’s restorative effects, is pretty much super soul goodness.
Keep a nature journal
Keeping a nature journal combines the soothing effects of both creativity and nature. Hayes suggests using it to keep track of what species, plant or animal you are seeing and when. “For example, when do you see the first maple leaf of the season and where? Things like that,” he says. “You can make sketches in your book about the world around you. They don’t have to be great sketches, just observations on pages, maybe a poem, something that you are noticing. Maybe you make a list of the different birds you see. You don’t even have to know the correct names of the birds. Just give them names that are meaningful to you.”
Join a birding club
Hayes also recommends joining your local birding club, a hobby that has soared to new heights in recent years across North America. Birding, which is basically the hobby of observing birds in their natural habitat, not only connects you to the wildlife outdoors, but also to people who have the same interest. “Connecting with other people who enjoy nature is a great way to expand your knowledge and it’s fun,” says Hayes. Another option? Snap pics of your neighbourhood birds and submit your sightings to eBird.ca.
Visit a nearby nature centre
Luckily, we live in a country that has an abundance of nature from coast-to-coast. Not surprisingly there are a number of nature sanctuaries, like Toronto’s High Park Nature Centre, across the country that are worth checking out. From Vancouver and Edmonton to Ottawa and Halifax, these eco-friendly establishments offer a wide array of workshops and activities that encourage connecting with and understanding the wildlife and nature that exists around us.
“Nature study combines your head, your head and your body,” says Hayes. “You learn the facts and knowledge with your brain, you start to care about them with your heart and you experience them with your body. When these three are combined, spending time in nature isn’t a chore, but something you want to do.”