The sun is (finally) peeking out and the birds are chirping away.

Spring is here and summer is just around the corner!

It is time to shake off those winter blues and liven things up with some time in the great outdoors. Getting outside and spending time in nature is great for both your body and mind-set. Research shows that spending at least 120 minutes of your week outside can promote better health and overall well-being.

If, after spending so much time inside during the cold winter months, you haven’t quite been able to make spending time outside a regular part of your routine, this article should be helpful.

Building New Habits

Have you ever intentionally tried to create a new healthy habit? It takes a lot of dedication; it can take 17-21 days to form a habit!

In his book “Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results”, James Clear outlines 4 laws for building habits. I’ll outline them for you below and after, I will offer an example of how you might use these laws to develop a habit for outdoor excursions.

A graphic illustrating how each of the habit loop concepts described in this article feed into eachother.
  1. The first law is Cue- Where you build an association with something in your day with the habit you are trying to form. Essentially, develop an obvious cue for the action. The cue initiates your brain to begin the intended behavior and serves as a reminder to act. Ideally, after your cue, you will crave the action.
  2. The second law is Craving- Make the action attractive so that it’s something you will actually want to do. This is known as the motivational force behind a habit.
  3. The third law is Response- Make it easy and attainable. In other words, this is the actual habit you perform or the action you take.
  4. The fourth law is Reward- Make it satisfying. This is the end goal that satisfies the craving. Additionally, the reward helps to build a positive association with the action in the future.

Habit Building in Practice

Let’s see if we can apply that same methodology to develop a habit of regular walks or hikes outside.

If the birds are chirping and the sun is shining, let’s cue the action. Find a new spot- your backyard, the beach, a walking trail- step outside and take in that fresh air you may have been craving after months of being cooped up inside. Identify your favorite way to spend time outside, maybe you enjoy catching up with a friend while walking around your neighborhood or you prefer a bit more adventure hiking across new-to-you trails. Consider the reasons for creating this new habit.

I like to hike so at this point in the exercise, I would reflect on what it is about the hobby that I enjoy and then I would focus on the general benefits of hiking:

Hiking can improve your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your bones, and improve your mindset. When you take a breath of fresh air, this raises oxygen levels in your brain which ultimately increases the level of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that affects and alters your mood. The more serotonin, the better you may feel.

After reflecting, get moving! Take that first step on the path to a new habit. As you’re moving, take stock of how the activity is making you feel by observing your physical and mental responses. Once you’ve completed the activity, bring your attention back to your breath and remember the actions it took to get here. After completing the activity, you may feel rejuvenated, calm, and happy. Remember that feeling next time you notice your cue – those positive feelings are your reward for practicing your new habit.

Hopefully, you come away from this feeling inspired to get out and get moving – not just today but every day as it becomes a part of your regular daily habits. Whatever outside activity you decide on, your cardiovascular system and mindset will certainly appreciate the effort!