By Amy Bushatz
When I moved my family to Alaska so we could spend more time outside, I never expected getting out the door would actually be hard. It’s just nature, right? How hard can it be?
Really hard, as it turns out. It wasn’t just the emotional exhaustion of relocating across the country, or the challenges of being in a wildly new place, unlike anywhere I had ever lived. They call Alaska “the last frontier” for a reason. It’s wild and untamed. Majestic peaks are paired with unpredictable wildlife, dramatic weather and months of darkness or, in the summer, only daylight.
For a newcomer like me, the whole thing felt daunting. Did I have the right jacket? Why were my feet so cold? Was I going to get eaten by a bear? Why did the mosquitos seem the size of birds? Why was it so incredibly windy? Why couldn’t I drag myself out of the house in the winter during the four hours of daylight?
I had been in Alaska almost a year when I realized I wasn’t using the place the way I wanted to. I wanted to be a person whose life was characterized by going outside, not someone who had to force herself to do it.
And so, I gave myself a challenge. What would happen if I made myself go outside for at least 20 consecutive minutes every day? Would I be happier? Healthier? Would Alaska seem less wild? Could I do it for a whole year, getting outside daily even in the harsh winter weather?
The answer to all of those was “yes.” And today, over 1,300 days later, I am still heading outside daily and seeing the rewards. Here is some of what I’ve learned.
How you feel about getting outside is a decision -- sort of. As tempted as I was to avoid going outside when the weather was bad or I was simply tired or busy, I learned pretty quickly that if I could just feel good about getting myself out the door, my body and nature would do the rest. Research into the impacts of nature on our bodies and, specifically, our brains show that good feelings from nature are almost a given. Not only does heading outside slow the release of the hormone that triggers feelings of stress, but it also increases the release of endorphins, the hormones that make you feel happy.
What you wear matters. It took some experimenting, but I’ve finally learned how to find the outdoor gear and clothing that’s right for me. Part of it was simply learning how to layer for the conditions on any given day. The rest of it was about finding brands or fabrics that work for my body and fit me well, including Balega’s uber comfortable socks, which I rely on to keep my feet happy and dry.
The benefits of daily outdoor time are endless. After a little research ahead of my challenge, I expected to find that nature, in the words of author Florence Williams, would make me “happier, healthier and more creative.” But I didn’t think much about how far each of those changes would reach. Not only is my mental health better and my overall happiness increased, but I am running farther than ever and feel braver about exploring things that used to make me uncomfortable. And the benefits come back inside with me, too. Thanks to oodles of quality time together outside, my relationships are better than ever. I’m also more productive at work thanks to the creativity and problem-solving bump given to me by getting outdoors.
These things have helped me so much that I now have a podcast about it, Humans Outside. If you’re looking for a way to improve your own life, getting outside daily could be the remedy you need. Join me on Humans Outside on Instagram or Facebook where a community of people are inspired by sharing their outdoor time with each other, using #HumansOutside365.
Amy Bushatz is a 2021 Impi Ambassador, journalist and podcast host based in Palamer, Alaska.