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Get Out! The Simple Thing That Can Help You Be Happier and Healthier

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We’ve learned that spending time outside every day means happier kids — and mom.

I think I’ve been a bit spoiled this winter. This is not because I was somehow able to avoid the intense cold or shelter myself from the many snow storms that pummeled the East Coast. Quite the opposite, in fact. Nearly every day for the past three months, I’ve been outside for nearly an hour — sometimes longer — in whatever weather happened to be on the menu, from running as part of my training for the Boston Marathon in April to walking (with my two younger kids) to pick up my older son from school. And while at first I would see “22 degrees” on the weather report and shudder, before too long it seemed like anything over 20°F was manageable. (And anything under 20°F was manageable, too — it just took a little more positive thinking to get my body out the door.)

And when I say that I was “spoiled,” I don’t mean that my fingers and toes have deadened or anything like that. I mean that I haven’t felt the cabin fever or the desperation for spring and warmer weather that so many others have expressed. I knew that the fact that I had to get my training miles in contributed to my immunity from the general mood that winter stinks. I thought that since I’d been out in the cold more frequently and for longer periods of time, my body had adapted to the frigidness and wasn’t as bothered by it.

However, I think that something else was at play: It wasn’t just that I adapted — mentally and physically — to the cold weather, it was simply the fact and the act of being outside that made the winter — harsh as it was — manageable and even, dare I say it … enjoyable.

You see, research suggests that going outside on sunny, spring days can improve your mood and open your mind. Something about being cooped up indoors makes people skittish, anxious, glum, and inflexible. Finally reaching the end of cold days — and getting a green light to go outside — can relieve those feelings.

But what if you hadn’t been “cooped up” in the first place? What if there is no cabin fever to be relieved?

I made it a goal a couple of years ago, spurred by the fact that my family of 5 lives in a 700-square-foot apartment, to get my kids outside every day. For me, it breaks the long days up, keeps us from getting under each other’s feet (and skin) too frequently or intensely, and it gives us a change of scene. Plus we get some vitamin D, fresh air, and a bit of exercise — whether it’s me walking around the block, wearing my baby while my two boys ride their bikes, or walking to the grocery store, library, or laundromat as part of our weekly errands.

We aren’t perfect at this, of course. Some days it really is too cold to go outside. Some days it’s more important for the kids to get a rest than it is for me to push them to get outside. Some days someone is sick. And some days I simply don’t have it in me to find something for us to do or some place to go. But on those days when we do get outside, everyone is happier — especially me. I feel more alert, focused, and accomplished.

It’s a simple thing — going outside, walking around, noticing the sky and the trees and the cars and the people. But it has a surprising impact. Try it sometime. Try it today.

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