Get Off the Couch and Get Outside! Here’s How

Updated: Sep. 23, 2014

If you’re plopped on a couch or chair right now, surrounded by four walls and a ceiling, you’re not alone.

If you’re plopped on a couch or chair right now, surrounded by four walls and a ceiling, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re taking part in America’s #1 anti-activity — sitting disease. It’s the top reason more and more of us are overweight. Our increasingly housebound, car-bound, office-bound, computer-bound lifestyle claims at least 22 hours out of most adults’ days in the United States.

Shocked? Do the math: Add 1 hour for meals, 1 hour commuting, 8 hours on the job (or working in the home), 3 hours for TV, 1 hour for evening computer and phone time, 1 hour for waking-up and going-to-bed routines, and 7 hours for snoozing. That’s 22 hours in which you have minimal physical activity going on!

This is not what our bodies were built for. For the vast majority of mankind’s history, we spent our days doing outdoor physical labor. Our sedentary lifestyle is a new arrival — in fact, less than 100 years old. But we’ve certainly taken to it! Why open a can by hand when an electric opener will do it? Why walk or bike when the car is waiting for you? Why chop wood for the fireplace when you can buy long burning, manufactured logs at the grocery store?

Convenience may be good, but lack of daily activity isn’t. Many doctors believe that sedentary living has taken over cigarettes as the number one cause of illness in America today. Sedentary living has been linked to every major health issue of our times: heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stroke, and more.

Get outdoors! Turn off the TV, push the footstool away from the sofa, lace up your shoes and get outside for at least 30 minutes a day, plus a few hours each weekend.
Yes, we know, you don’t need to go outdoors to get a good workout. What’s wrong with fitness centers, treadmills, exercise DVDs, or Wii Fit? Nothing, of course. All are valid, fine ways to burn calories and strengthen muscles. But each of these lacks a few important things: Sunshine. Trees. Flowers. Breezes. Animals. The Feel of Grass under your Feet. Sights. Sounds. Smells. People. Unfiltered Air.

These are not insubstantial items. In a recent University of San Diego study, researchers found that exposure to sunlight lifted depression. No surprise there — most of us know instinctively that sunshine lifts our spirits and sense of wellness.

But the connection runs deeper than many might realize. For example, simply looking at flowers eases depression, according to Rutgers University psychologists who tested the moods of 100 women and men in the presence and absence of colorful blooms.

There’s no research to confirm it, but it makes intuitive sense that time spent outdoors contributes to good health, greater relaxation, more fitness, and by extension, fewer pounds. After all, whether you’re walking, gardening, bicycling, or merely getting the mail, being outdoors inherently means being more active than being inside. It’s not on any medical group’s official recommendations, but we say, make ‘more time outdoors’ one of your top health-improvement goals.

Here are ideas to help you do just that:
1. Put on outdoor clothes the moment you come home from work. For most of us, work clothes are indoor clothes — you wouldn’t want to garden or play in a tie or skirt or dress shoes. Make it a ritual: arrive home, immediately switch into a T-shirt and shorts, and start the second part of your day afresh.

2. Keep essential gear by the door. Outdoor shoes, sunglasses, a brimmed hat, sunscreen, and bug repellent all are essential summertime outdoor gear. Have them all ready in the same place by your back door.

3. Match eating time with outdoor time. Lunch took 20 minutes? Then walk for 20 minutes outdoors immediately after eating. Dinner took 30 minutes? Balance it with 30 minutes outside. Make every meal a two-part affair: eating time and then outdoor time.

4. Garden in small batches. Most of us save up gardening chores for the weekend. The result: several hours of hard work, the last few not very fun. Instead, garden in 30-minute spurts all week long. This will get you outdoors more frequently, and you’ll never get bored or tired because of the brevity of the task. Best of all, come Saturday, your yard and garden will need only a little work, leaving you more time for fun!

5. Use weekday evenings more effectively. In the same vein, why shop, clean, and cook so much on the weekends? Do your essential weekly errands from 8 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and clear the way for weekend fun. You’ll find that stores are much emptier weekday evenings, making shopping that much less stressful.

6. Take more nature walks. If you’ve embraced walking as part of your weight-loss regimen, terrific! Now take it up a notch — put on trail-walking shoes, go to a regional park (the more rugged the better) with a friend or loved one, and take a wilderness hike. Bring water and a granola bar, and wander for a few hours of natural, soul-lifting exercise.

Plus: 7 Anti-Aging Secrets

7. Assemble a toy box. What do you love doing outdoors? Whether it’s hitting wiffle golf balls, practicing your fishing fly casting, doing watercolor paintings, shooting basketballs, playing badminton, tossing tennis balls or a Frisbee with your dog, weeding the flower beds or exercising with a hula hoop, have your gear in a waterproof bin near your backdoor, ready for instant usage.

8. Schedule like crazy. Life’s dirty little secret: The most common Saturday conversation in America goes like this:
‘Whadayouwannado today?’
‘I don’t know — whada YOUwannado?’
Well, throw out that script. Picnics, hikes, bike rides, arboretum visits don’t just happen spontaneously; you need to plan them. During the week, be as specific in your planning as possible for your upcoming weekend. Don’t just suggest a nature walk for Sunday afternoon. Pick a time and place, and make a firm plan.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest