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Getting your greens (or making the most of the blues) - daily exposure to nature

In order to be healthy and mentally 'fit', a balanced diet means more than just 'getting your greens' in a nutritional sense. It also means getting sufficient exposure to nature and adventurous activities that factor into the daily regime. The benefits of this on emotional wellbeing and mental performance are rife. Yet we neglect these aspects in our increasingly technologically-addicted lives. A little 'colour coding' on one's schedule can help restore this connection and improve our overall 'mental fitness'...

In my blogs I put forward ideas from Adventure Psychology to help people figure a way to thrive in uncertain times, and make sense of the crazy world. By adopting an Adventure Mindset (I'll gradually reveal how) you can approach the challenges of life with an adaptable resolve, and embrace the chaos knowing full well that it's a wild ride so you might as well enjoy it!

“Opportunities abound to factor into your life-routine small and manageable, or indeed, much more ambitious levels of exposure to the natural environment, provoking lasting psychological benefits and improvements to 'mental fitness'."

A balanced diet of natural adventures - colouring in your day

Eating a balanced diet is one important aspect of a healthy life, but ‘getting your greens’ can mean something entirely different, and whilst being the most natural thing, is easily neglected in one’s daily routine. Yet to achieve ultimate 'mental fitness' we need to acknowledge what is lacking...

I am talking about nature itself. Living an increasingly technologically-addicted urban lifestyle, nature is apt to be off the menu completely. Yet a new ‘fad’ is being bandied about: the virtues of exposure to nature as a remedy to stress and the modern mental health pandemic. Two hours walking in nature prescribed by the NHS. ‘Forest bathing’ espoused in countries such as Finland, or Japan (known as ‘shinrin-yoku’) - i.e. walking in the woods (!) Next up ‘wild’ swimming. Or what used to be known, when I were a lad, simply as ‘swimming outdoors’ (in that river, the sea, pond – yelping and crazily happy!).

It’s telling that we have become so dissociated from our evolutionary roots in modern times that we now have to bring these innate characteristics of experience back to the fore.

A concept of ‘green exercise’ is being talked about these days – something rekindled in my thinking in a recent discussion concerning the state of the art in current research (Firnhaber, 2020).

Maybe ‘going for a walk in the fresh air’ seems so obvious to most, but we can all probably hold up our hands and guiltily admit it’s often the last thing we might bother to do. Particularly when one can just pore over the latest Netflix series hunched over tiny screens. One could argue that our stooped postures with respect to staring down at a mobile phone represents a potential for evolutionary regression. As hominids, after all, we evolved to stand bipedally upright and use this vantage to scan the horizon above the savannah grasslands – seeing both threats and opportunities in the distance out there!

So ‘getting your greens’ in this respect means making a concerted effort to schedule into one’s daily regimen an interaction with nature in some form or another. There are different classifications of this interaction, and the likely impact this will have on one’s wellbeing and mental functioning. One may have a passive interaction (such as going for a drive – or being driven – in the countryside). One may engage in a task or past-time that involves a natural setting, but which may not directly engage with nature itself (such as playing golf). Or one may directly immerse in the setting in an activity that very much depends on the environment itself (such as rock climbing). The degree to which one benefits from ‘being in nature’ will likely depend on this level of engagement, including the demands of the task and whether one’s attention is harmonised to the setting itself. I will be exploring this area in greater detail, developing tools and approaches to help people benefit more in terms of redressing their own mental health challenges, and improving their performance more generally.

Whilst talking about ‘greens’ per se, we can also colour code other classifications of interaction with nature, and which account for different degrees of both benefit/reward as dependent on the demands of being involved in activities in such situations.

For instance, ‘having the blues’ refers to activities that involve being immersed in, on top of, or proximal to, water. In my involvement with sailing enterprises we very much extol the significant benefits of being around Mistress Sea. The sea traditionally presents challenge and opportunity to test one’s character and to develop a truly adventurous spirit! By throwing oneself ‘in at the deep end’ one learns rapidly to ‘sink or swim’.

Some environments present a much harsher challenge than others, but then again provide exponential reward for making the commitment. In fact, the more effort one puts in, the more sacrifices to one’s comfort, and the greater immersion in nature, the greater the payback – and likely the bigger the change to one’s mindset and behaviour. For instance going on a prolonged or hazard-strewn expedition (voyaging out to sea for a period of days or weeks, climbing at high altitude in the Greater Ranges, or even simply striking out on a multi-day wild camping trip into the remoter reaches of the landscape) will effect greater capacity for personal transformation and growth. With effort and commitment come lasting progress.

A short sharp shock can also have capacity to effect change, targeting the neurophysiological mechanisms that respond adaptively to stress - from an ordeal on a rock face, to becoming disoriented deep in a cave whilst potholing, or in deep, dark waters SCUBA diving. To a lesser degree simply plunging into a cold lake (make sure you yelp for joy) or simply turning down the shower each morning for 30 seconds can also stimulate the bequeathed systems within us that respond favourably to 'a little natural stress'!! Opportunities abound to factor into your life-routine small and manageable, or indeed, much more ambitious levels of exposure to the natural environment, provoking lasting psychological benefits and improvements to 'mental fitness'.

The colour coding can be further extended into other arenas, territories and activities, married to a deeper understanding of how the brain and body respond to the demands, challenges and stimulating opportunities conferred.

The Adventure Psychology approach can be used to create a colour chart that encourages a balanced ‘diet’ of exposure to nature, and the wild. This can be routinely factored into one’s day to day life. Get in touch to find out how this can be achieved with guidance on how the #AdventureMindset encompasses this.

I have ‘had the blues’ so much this week taking advantage of the incredible sea conditions off the North Wales coast I think I have developed gills!

Firnhaber, M. (2020). The Effects of Green Exercise in Terms of Wellbeing: A Systematic Review. Bachelor Thesis. The Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Maastricht University

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