Wellness Benefits of Outdoor Living Spaces
After a long hard winter, it’s finally outdoor season! More daylight hours mean enjoying evening gatherings outside with friends and family. Entertaining is easy and relaxed. If you have your own porch, deck, balcony, yard or patio, these are the ideal months to enjoy being outside at home.
Maybe your outdoor living area could use some enhancements, and the money you didn’t spend on vacationing last year is going to an improvement project this year. That can have great returns for your well-being and your wallet; outdoor improvements have the potential to increase the value of your property and definitely your enjoyment of it in the meantime.
“Spending time in nature has many benefits,” shared Folsom, California-based psychologist Forrest Talley, Ph.D. in Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020). “These include lowering cortisol levels, (a hormone that becomes elevated under stress, and causes more rapid aging); strengthening the immune system; lowering blood pressure; enhancing memory function; diminished anxiety, and building a sense of well-being.”
Perhaps your setting is completely urban with no trees or turf in sight. Consider adding your own greenery with native plants in decorative pots, raised planters, green walls or trellis installations. Consult with a gardening pro to see what will grow best in your space, or take a gardening class yourself.
Other ways to add nature to your home are hanging wind chimes and bird feeders and adding decorative elements that evoke flora or fauna. Adding these nature-inspired representations is a component of biophilia. Medical studies have shown that even biophilic representations, (rather than the real thing, if that’s unavailable or impractical), can help with stress reduction, pain management and recovery in hospital patients.
These representations could be decorative outdoor pillows with your favorite animals printed on them, an animal print outdoor rug, a floral candle, a bowl of seashells or other nature-inspired outdoor decoration that evokes happy memories, relaxing moments or dream vacations.
After being cooped up inside all winter, with bad weather and a brutal pandemic, it’s lovely to take your workouts outside. ACE, one of the leading certification programs for personal trainers, shares these benefits of exercising outside: 1. Improved mood and reduced depression; 2. Enhanced self-esteem; 3. Low cost; 4. Ease of access and 5. Connecting with Mother Nature.
Ease of access is especially helpful when you’re squeezing in short workouts during your lunch break or your young one’s nap. The opportunity to step out of your door to get some exercise in the fresh air can be a mood and energy booster.
Some wellness design considerations to keep in mind when exercising outdoors:
- What fitness equipment will handle regular outdoor use and where will you store it conveniently between workouts?
- Do you want to add privacy with an outdoor screen or drapery panels?
- Do you want to cushion your flooring with a mat to protect your feet and joints?
- If your workout space and times are going to be hot and sunny, do you want to add a fan and possibly a sun-blocking shade?
- Will your sound speaker disturb any of your neighbors or household members while they work, sleep or study?
- Are insect bites likely to be a problem outside? Consider a zapper that fits your space and budget.
Outdoor Cooking and Dining
One of the great pleasures of this time of year is food cooked and enjoyed al fresco (adjective, done or eaten in the open air). Your choices of cooking equipment include the trusty built-in or portable grill, but they can go much further. There are also side burners for searing and cooking side dishes and warming drawers for late comers.
Grilled food – especially fruit, vegetables, fish and lean meats – can be flavorful, light and nutritious. Just be careful not to burn your starchy ingredients or meats to avoid a potential health risk, advises the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Outdoor pizza ovens – either built-in or freestanding – have become quite popular, and can help you host a healthy pizza party. There are also outdoor refrigerators, ice makers and wine captains for healthful gatherings.
If your grill is in a semi-enclosed outdoor space, you’re going to want (or need) a ventilation hood. Even if it’s not required by local code, a properly-sized and sited unit can help keep shifting winds from blowing cooking smoke onto your guests. Screens are also helpful for keeping insects away from your cooking and dining areas. Some are designed to retract when not in use, or be practically invisible when they are.
It’s worth consulting with a local outdoor kitchen professional or landscape architect to find the right layout, equipment, finishes and furniture for your space, style, comfort and investment level.
Nights can still be chilly in some regions and having an outdoor fire pit, fire table or fireplace can extend the use of your outdoor space into the cooler seasons. If that’s not an option, choose a large outdoor blanket you can snuggle under.
Another comfort feature to consider is outdoor lighting. There are options that require electrical power, like most lanterns and ceiling lights, and some that don’t. These might be easier to set up, and can include solar-powered path lights (for safety) and string lights for entertaining. There’s always candlelight for romantic evenings or relaxed solo sessions. Just be sure that the holder offers stability and wind protection so it won’t cause a fire.
Allergy sufferers often have a harder time enjoying the outdoors this time of year. The Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions for those with seasonal allergies:
- Stay indoors on dry, windy days. The best time to go outside is after a good rain, which helps clear pollen from the air.
- Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.
- Wear a pollen mask if you do outside chores.
- Check your local TV or radio station, your local newspaper, or the Internet for pollen forecasts and current pollen levels.
- If high pollen counts are forecasted, start taking allergy medications before your symptoms start.
Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright had his own thoughts about outdoor living. This quotation by the master appeared at the end of Wellness by Design: “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”
Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS, MCCWC is a Mayo Clinic Certified Wellness Coach, wellness design consultant and the author of three books on design and remodeling. The latest, Wellness by Design: A Room-by-Room Guide to Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness, (Tiller Press) published September 2020. You can catch Jamie’s WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS on Clubhouse the first and third week of the month at 1pm Pacific/4pm Eastern.