I have been thinking about a simple question for awhile now. In fact, as I successfully completed my 2012 challenge to get outside for at least thirty minutes every day, I wondered if thirty minutes of outdoor time was enough. The question came with me on my walks and lingered well after I returned home.
I contemplated upping the challenge to go out for at least 60 minutes a day during 2013. Was 30 minutes of my day a tough enough challenge? Would I have more to write about and would it be more interesting to my readers if I went out longer? Is 1/48th of a day a sufficient amount of outdoor time? Most days 30 minutes is pretty easy to accomplish—what would 60 minutes feel like when the wind chill is well below zero or when I had a fever of 102? Would 1/24 of a day be twice as good? Does the ratio of outdoor time to indoor time even matter? And what does it mean to be enough? What is the core goal here?
The concept reentered my thinking in February after I presented at the Portland Trails 2013 Annual Meeting. I presented what I’m doing here in this Everyday Outside blog and what the 365 Everyday Outside Challenge is. The format only allowed me to share the essence of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
(You can watch the video here. My introduction starts at 43:22 and my presentation starts with a little nervous laughter at 44:46.)
After the presentation my mother-in-law said, “It seems like such a simple thing to do… I must already go outside for at least 30 minutes. I walk to and from the car a lot.” Then I could see her remember that the only thing I don’t count towards my outdoor time is walking to and from the car. Before I started the challenge, I too would have thought that I was outside for at least 30 minutes most days, but as I began to keep track of my minutes, I was shocked at how much more I was going outdoors than I had in the past. The goal of not missing more than one day a month pushed me to make a conscious effort, and that made all the difference.
There were many days when I would not have gone for a walk if it wasn’t for the challenge, nights when I was about to crawl into bed after 10:00, having just slipped on my cozy fleece pajamas only to remember that that I hadn’t gone outside. Without the challenge, I wouldn’t have bothered, but with it, I had just enough of a push to get me out of bed and out the back door with my pajamas on. In 2012 I went out that back door in the wee hours like that more times than I could count because I was counting.
After the presentation, my husband thought that my talk made the challenge sound easy, and he knows otherwise. In 2012, when I started this journey to get outside every day, I would absolutely agree, that it isn’t easy. But it is much easier now than it was for the first year. People say it takes 21 days to form a new habit. I gave myself a whole year, and it is now certainly a habit that will last a lifetime. So far in 2013 I’ve missed only one day.
This habit has made me noticeably happier. I’m pretty sure my happiness is directly proportional to how much outdoor time I get. Maybe it is in part because my indoor time is connected to work, responsibilities, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and stuff that I have to do and which I rarely feel on top of. Outdoor time almost always involves stuff I really want to do. Maybe I am happier because I am getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D or more exercise or fresh air. Or is it possible that my increased happiness level is a result of a deep, sustained, everyday connection with the natural world? I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly what is responsible for making me feel happier but I know that my outdoor time has contributed significantly. I also know that the key is at least 30 minutes. Anything less than 30 minutes would not be enough because most days 30 minutes isn’t sufficient for my nature connection.
In part I’m keeping my challenge to 30 minutes because I really want others to join me, and for the challenge to be an attainable goal that others want to achieve. My dog walking family and friends go outside every day and between 20-40 people have said they’re taking the outdoor challenge this year. So lots of people are getting outside regularly, but I know that most aren’t. Most days I get outside for more than a half-hour, but there are days when it is all I can do to make those thirty precious minutes happen, and those are the days when I need that time the most. On those days 30 minutes is enough.
What do you think? Is thirty minutes of daily outdoor time enough for you?