by Sarah Johnson
Around this time of year, most of us are typically itching to get outside. The days are longer, the sun is warmer, and it feels as if we’re emerging from a long housebound hibernation.
This year, though, “winter” barely made an appearance. I’m hoping the winter of 17-18 was a fluke because a warm, dry season like that has negative impacts way beyond my own missed ski days. But the upside of a mild winter was that maybe we all spent more time outdoors because, for the most part, we’re not getting enough of it.
According to John Spengler at the Harvard School of Public Health, the average American spends 95% or more of their life indoors. That 95% contributes to diminished physical and mental health and weakens our connection to the people and places around us. When you consider that we humans have spent most of our tens of thousands of years living primarily outside, this is hardly our optimal state. We were not designed to be an indoor species.
I’d be willing to bet that here in Mesa County we do better than 95%. Whether you’re a biker, a hiker, a hunter, a fisher, or even just a sit-in-the-backyarder, the outdoors is part of our culture. And with an average of 242 days of sunshine a year and public land making up more than 75% of the County, we really have very few excuses to stay inside.
Still, especially when it comes to being active, we’re probably more like the average indoor American than we’d like to admit. Luckily, small changes in our daily routines are all it takes to start getting closer to our outdoor roots.
For most people, time is the biggest challenge to spending time outside. That means you may need to get creative and look for unrecognized opportunities throughout your day. For example, when my daughter was younger and parents generally stuck around for soccer practice, I often took that time to go for a jog or a walk at the park where practice took place instead of hanging out on the sidelines. Now that she’s in high school, I bring my hiking or biking clothes to work so my outdoor activity can coincide with her extracurricular schedule and I pick her up on the way home.
Many employers have recognized the correlation between employee wellness and productivity, so take advantage of the increasing acceptance of walking meetings and group walking breaks. If these ideas haven’t permeated your workplace culture yet, be an advocate for them; you’ll have no trouble finding research to back up your request.
Our local Parks and Rec programs are a great way to jumpstart your outdoor lifestyle changes. Fruita, Grand Junction , and Palisade all offer affordable, convenient outside activities throughout the year, and they’re a great way to meet other outdoor-minded people.
Last year outdoor retailer REI released an impactful report called “The Path Ahead,” outlining the consequences of our indoor existence and the still-viable outdoor alternatives. Yes, they’re hoping to sell gear, but their point is valid: Our lives are healthier and more satisfying when we spend time outside.
We are fortunate to live in a place that makes outdoor activity so easy and enjoyable. People plan their vacations and their cross-country moves to take advantage of what we can experience on our lunch breaks. Go play outside today – there’s a reason we call it the West Slope Best Slope.