By Tia Vierling | Photo by Bibi Powers

With stay-at-home orders and self-quarantining as the new reality for many Colorado College students, it may seem that there are not enough sources of motivation to get outside and stay active. Classes delivered via distance learning are time consuming and challenging; the allure of scrolling through social media, obsessively checking the news, or getting engrossed in a good book is undeniable. However, even getting outside for a short period of time each day, while still maintaining appropriate social distance, can have a vital effect on one’s mental health and wellbeing.

Some students may be concerned that spending time outside can diminish time available for schoolwork. Although this is technically true, one of the benefits of time spent in the outdoors is that it may make students more effective when it comes to doing homework. According to the Harvard Health Letter, spending time outside can improve concentration and make people happier, positively impacting both students’ ability to work on school and their moods. While this may seem like a self-evident fact, knowing that going outside is not a “waste of time” should act as a motivation for anyone currently doubting whether it is worthwhile to go for a stroll once a day.

In fact, for students in classes with a creative component — or those who would like to be more creative in their stay-at-home hobbies — simply walking around can have a positive impact on idea generation. A Stanford University study aptly titled “Give Your Ideas Some Legs” determined that “the average increase in creative output was around 60%” for participants who were walking rather than sitting when generating ideas. While getting outside — and, specifically, engaging in nature — may not be entirely possible for students living at home in cities, rather than in more rural areas, walking around indoors also improves creativity. The simple decision to get up and walk through the living room may be entirely worth it in terms of improving both your work and your sense of wellbeing.

For those who can get outside, benefits abound even beyond those for mental health. Physically, going outside both promotes the body’s production of vitamin D and makes it easier to exercise; according to one study published in Environmental Science & Technology, bikers cycling in a green environment to simulate natural surroundings showed a significant decrease in how much they believed they were exerting themselves. For those with the ability to leave their homes, going for a bike ride on tree-lined boulevards or running through a forested park could feel much better than working out on an exercise machine.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for CC students whose change in circumstance has severely impacted stress levels, getting outside can reduce stress. During a pandemic that has likely increased stress for most people, this is a clear benefit of getting out and about. In an article entitled “Here’s Proof Going Outside Makes You Healthier,” Abigail Wise explains that scent, such as that of flowers or pine needles, as well as simple exposure to the outside world, — can “decrease stress and increase relaxation.”

Not being able to go to the movies, out with friends, or even to school as you normally do is certainly not an optimal situation. However, with people attempting to self-isolate and flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, it is vital that mental health and physical wellbeing are maintained despite the challenges that arise from such conscientious behavior. Going outside to take a walk may seem like an overly simple way to improve on the current circumstances, but it is exactly that type of easy action that will create a better home experience during this difficult situation.

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