My friend Jill is a city girl through and through, born and raised in Chicago. But when she was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon she fell in love with a nature buff who spent lots of time hiking, canoeing, cross country skiing. When they first met, Don lived in the boonies an hour from Pittsburgh and loved nothing more than the sounds of nature as he fell asleep at night. She kind of liked the far off sounds of sirens and city buses lulling her to sleep. At first she thought their differences in this regard would make a long term relationship impossible. But though she is still a city-lover, she has completely embraced the awesome benefits of dating an outdoor enthusiast!
Here’s what Jill found out about being in the out of doors with her honey:
- Sharing & bonding. By embracing what Don had to offer, Jill found that their partnership was strengthened by sharing experiences together. Research confirms that couples bond more strongly when they do and experience things together. (Don also allowed Jill to show him the joys of city life—museums, theater, cafés, history and more.)
- More happiness. It’s true, all you city dwellers out there. It’s been shown that being in nature is a mood elevator. So even the most died-in-the-wool urbanite like Jill will feel the uplift of time under the trees, on the mountaintop, at the beach. When your mood is lifted, life is more fun, and so are you.
- Better brain function. You may think that sitting at your computer working all day long is helping keep you smart, but not really. Fresh air and exercise are very much part of keeping your brain cells up to snuff. Plus, Jill found that those long walks through the hills and vales was a great chance to exercise those brain cells with deep, meaningful conversations with Don! She returned to her studies re-invigorated.
- Less stress. Being in nature and using your body (and brain) decreases the build-up of stress hormones that accumulate through the days and weeks due to work and home pressures. Vegging in front of the TV might seem like a great way to destress, but again, research shows that fresh air is a huge de-stresser and physical activity is too. Also, when you and your partner are biking the rail trail, you have all that time to focus on one another without distractions. The pressures of grad school seemed less overwhelming to Jill once she started hanging out with Don. Part of that was probably love, but she is sure a lot can be chalked up to the time they spent under the open sky.
- Exercise squared. So it turns out that exercising outdoors has more benefits than exercising indoors, so you get more bang for your buck. All of the reasons to exercise are suddenly amped up when you are out in nature, and you will feel and be the best version of yourself. (For more on reasons to date a health enthusiast check out my blog on the subject.)
- The sun vitamin. Known as D—this important vitamin is found to be in short supply in too many of us these days. Why? We are spending too much time indoors. Vitamin D comes directly from exposure to the sun and fights infections, including colds and the flu, as it regulates the expression of genes that influence your immune system to attack and destroy bacteria and viruses. No need to burn—sunscreen and hats are recommended—but you’ll still get the benefits of being out in the sunshine and meanwhile enjoy better health. Oh, and that time you spend absorbing health and fresh air is more time with your partner.
Things to do outdoors together:
♣ Bike. Bike paths and rail trails are increasingly common both in and out of cities. You can often find bike rentals conveniently located. Paths designed for recreational bicycling tend to be fairly flat, too. Or, for the more adventurous, rent a mountain bike and hit the hills!
♣ Hike. Depending on where you live, there may be hills or mountains nearby for you to trek through. Get a trail guide—stop at an outdoor outfitter, a kiosk, or the office of a park ranger if you are on state or federal land. Some hikes are for beginners, some for the more experienced. Know what you are getting into before you start.
♣ Boat. If you are near water, you can rent a canoe or kayak to explore the surrounding wetlands, streams, lakes, or ocean inlets. Again, there are ways to do this as a beginner and beyond.
♣ Fish. This is a great way to be out in nature while completely resting your weary bones. Pack up a cooler with snacks and bait, and find a shady spot to cast your line.
♣ Ski or snowshoe. Winter is no excuse to stop doing things outdoors. If you are in a snowy part of the world and have not tried a snow sport, go for it. And even if you don’t want to go downhill skiing, you can try cross-country (one of the best aerobic exercises there is) and believe me, even on a cold day…you’ll feel warm!
♣ Go sledding. You don’t have to be a kid to take the old Flexible Flyer out for a spin. And to be honest, spooning together on a sled and speeding downhill holding on tight… it can be pretty romantic.
♣ Walk. No matter the season, a long walk (or a short one), brisk (or not-so-brisk), with or without destination is a wonderful way to breathe in the air, get the blood moving, and soak in some of that sun vitamin, as well as an excuse to hold hands, a chance to talk about every little thing, and plan for the next trip outdoors.
Postscript on Jill and Don. They got married. They looked for locations that would suit both their needs and then looked for work. They both got jobs in Montpelier, Vermont—a considerably smaller city than Pittsburgh, and close to the mountains that give Don such joy. A 20 minute drive to great hiking trails means they spend at least two days a month, if not more, enjoying the outdoors together. Now turn off that computer and go outside!