Throughout March we’re going to be exploring exercise in nature and how it boosts our energy, but more importantly how it helps us with Attention Restoration. Our expert this month is the brilliant Professor Vybarr Cregan-Reid, an author, academic, and speaker who's written widely on the subjects of health, nature and the environment. This month’s experiment is inspired by his book Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human, which looks at how running reconnects us to our bodies and the places in which we live, and at all the miraculous ways that something as simple as movement is so essential for our physical and psychological well-being. Everyone knows that exercising makes you fitter, healthier and lifts your mood, but doing it right can make you more intelligent and empathetic, too. Sounds good right?
We’re increasingly aware that being in and around green spaces is good for us and one super easy way it helps us out psychologically is with something called Attention Restoration. This a psychological term for recharging our ability to concentrate - quite important when we’ve work to get done. Our attentive abilities are a bit like a muscle. When you use that muscle repeatedly, it gets tired. And whilst we expect mental-tiredness to happen at work, a lot of how we choose to spend our recreation time actually deplete our attention even further, instead of helping to restore it!
Research has shown that when we’re in urban spaces, our attention is engaged about as much as if we’re watching a show or playing a video game. It takes mental labour to avoid death while negotiating traffic or avoiding other commuters on walkways. Urban environments are stressful to us on a subconscious level. Whilst in green spaces, our attention restores faster and more completely than anywhere - even looking at pictures of green spaces is restorative. So, in this month’s challenge we’re adding the benefits of exposure to green spaces to an exercise regime of either running or walking and it looks like this…
Challenge 1: Go for a walk today.
Not such a big thing, but today you’re going to do it without any headphones in or digital distraction.
When you get to a green space, (and by that, we mean anything up from a lawn and a few trees - the greener the better) walk for ten minutes without looking at your phone/ listening to a podcast etc. and make a mental note of your surroundings and what’s happening. For example…
Challenge 2: Double the intensity.
Double the time you walked for in Challenge 1, continuing without headphones.
Again, make a mental note of your surroundings and how it makes you feel.
Challenge 3: Up the exercise.
The easiest exercises to go for are a pacey speed-walk or a run.
Try to break with your usual habits, keep the earphones out and while running or walking. Again, try to keep a mental note of your surroundings as you run.
The distance is up to you… it’s not about breaking records, but about spending time exercising in nature.
Challenge 4: Haptic Engagement
As the intensity of environmental feedback we’ll receive is held in-check by the depth of our immersion into the environment, for challenge 4 we’re going to try something completely different and go for haptic engagement. This means touching and engaging with the environment as we exercise.
To reach haptic engagement we need to be more immersed in the environment. Things like gardening, or climbing a tree are great examples… or taking off our shoes before we go for a walk or a run. Which is what we’re doing for challenge 4.
When you get to your green space slip off your shoes and socks and go for a barefoot walk or run. As before the distance is up to you (just keep an eye out for things that hurt!).
A few top-tips before you go for a barefoot run or walk:
Your feet are sensitive, with over 200,000 subcutaneous receptors, but they're also tough. There’s a chance, too, that you may never have actually felt your local environment, known what temperature it really was, or experienced its textures. You will also have created a haptic memory. And on top of that, your feet will have experienced something they are not used to...
Go as deep as you’d like to with this experiment, based on your appetite for exercise. A pacey walk will give just as much of an experience as a run, so do what feels good, just make sure you get out there and notice how it feels, but also how it restores your attention levels.
We’d love to hear from you about how it affected your energy and attention levels too, so let’s get out there in nature and notice what it does to our attention levels…
The Upping Your Elvis Team