Take five minutes, go outside

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June 8 was National Get Outdoors Day. Did you miss it? I did -- and chances are, you did, too. In 2012, out of the 313 million people in the United States, 70,000 participated. That's .0002 percent.

National Get Outdoors Day. Let's think about that.

Our nation's indoor-dwelling denizens, like you and me, have such a dearth of outside activity that a coalition of people and organizations banded together to get us to go outside. These folks tempted us with geocaching, bike clinics, fly-fishing lessons, hikes, canoeing, rock climbing and fairs in parks all over the country.

By many standards, these events were deemed a success. People went outdoors. Awareness was raised. People felt energized and happy. All good things.

But why aren't we outside anyway?

Just as we know that eating our fruits and vegetables is good for us, we all know that nature is, too. Ask anyone. "Is nature good?" They'll say, "Yes!" Then they'll have another sip of coffee as they check their email at Starbucks.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the percentage of Americans taking part in nature-based activities has declined at slightly more than 1 percent a year since the 1980s. Participation is down 18 percent to 25 percent from peak levels.

Four factors account for 98 percent of the drop: more time spent browsing the Internet, playing video games, watching movies and ... the rising cost of filling our gas tank.

That last reason is premised on the idea that nature is something apart from our day-to-day activities, something that must be far away and involve drive time.

While paddling the Yough or hiking through the Laurel Highlands Trail is great, don't forget to go local. Here in nature-soaked Pittsburgh, that copious rain gives us big rivers, countless streams and lush foliage. Green hillsides are too steep for development. And let's tip our hats to those early industrialists who sectioned off some 15,000 acres of green space and all those local groups that now work to keep them all clean. Natural beauty is abundant right outside our doors.

Plants. Birds. Rain. Pay attention to the wind as it moves the trees. Be with it. It doesn't take long for nature to infiltrate our brains and moods.

"Well, I'm rather busy," one might say, "how long might this take?"

An evaluation at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom of 10 studies determined that the magic number is five. Five minutes walking, gardening, biking or any light activity in a natural environment gives a person a boost in both mood and self-esteem.

We are a nation in need of that boost. We know the state of this union, its bloat of depression, obesity and screen time.

Five minutes. How many "five minutes" are in a day? 288. There are 288 chances to spend five minutes outside, just today.

In a week? We have 2,016 opportunities to spend five minutes outside. Five minutes to feel better, refresh our outlook.

How many five minutes have I already squandered today? Let's see ... five minutes trolling the Internet for bathing suit sales, five minutes looking at movie stars who've had too much plastic surgery, five minutes playing "Would You Rather?" Oh, and five minutes downloading Candy Crush and five minutes on Craigslist checking out the farmhouse table I couldn't afford.

Hmmm. There's a theme here. All that time noodling online. How about you? What's your time suck?

So, here's the challenge to us all: Go outside for five minutes every day. Walk in a park, bike down the street, sit in the grass and stretch. No park? Find a tree-lined street, a path sidling by a river, a winding drive in a cemetery.

In Pittsburgh, a ravine is usually within sight. Heck, just look up at the sky and watch the clouds.

Nature is out there. Let's not make a big deal about it. Just slide out the door.

When the next National Get Outdoors Day rolls around, let's already be out there.


Lauri Grotstein is a writer working on a book titled "Why Natural Intelligence Matters" (lauridane@gmail.com). She lives in Indiana Township.


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